Busting a road through the woods is an expensive proposition. You may have to pay a logger to drop trees. You will have to hire a bulldozer to clear the roadway. Then you will need to pay for load after load of gravel that will be hauled by a dump truck. If you are trying to convert a boggy area to a road, you will be astounded at how much gravel the area sucks up before you have a passable road. For spots with high spring run off or year round flows, you may even need to purchase culverts. All these expenses need to be factored in when figuring the cost of homestead road building.
Out of curiosity, I inquired years ago how driveways through the woods are priced in Canada. Per foot was the response. A lot per foot as it turned out. It was an absurd figure. So absurd, I never bothered to put it in my memory vault for future retrieval. Paying a pile of money per foot to bust a trail through the woods wasn’t going to happen in my lifetime.
On the Maine homestead, I had a roughly 2100 foot ( a little less than half mile) long driveway. It was a woods road that led to a small 4 acre potato field. That field was the perfect place to put my new home nestled among the surrounding forest. But before I could reach this clearing, I first had to deal with a few sections of wet ground, each about 100 feet in length. It took dump truck load after dump truck load of gravel to fill in these short sections. I bought “bank run gravel” from the local contractor. Bank run gravel is unprocessed, right out of the ground material containing small boulders, gravel and sand. In wet ground, you want some big material (boulders and rock) to form a good solid base. Then gravel on top to create a relatively smooth, drivable surface.
Culverts on the Cheap
Because cost was paramount, when dealing with wet areas, I opted to build a culvert on the cheap. With the help of a local guy, I dug a wide trench across the road. We dropped several cedar trees across the road at right angles to the road and positioned them parallel to each other in the trench. The trees in the trench didn’t touch each other. I’m guessing the distance between trees was a gap of 12-18 inches at most. I didn’t do this, but I could have put another set of tree stems on top of the ones already in position to build up the height of the culvert. Next we drove some stakes into the ground on the insides of the trench to prevent the logs from rolling into the homemade culvert.
Using slabs that were generated by the portable sawmill which had cut the lumber for my home,I built a top over the logs to box in the culvert. By laying the slabs in a thick layer that was perpendicular to the logs, I created a surface that could be covered by loads of gravel thus creating a corridor from one side of the road to the other that allowed water to flow. It worked for many years but ultimately, the wood started to rot and I installed a steel culvert. But the homemade version is a trick to consider if you are really low on funds. I would opt to do it right the very first time with a proper culvert if you can. The following link is further information on road culverts.
Location of your access road or driveway will need to be considered carefully. There is a balance between a straight line from point A to point B and a winding, meandering driveway through the woods to get from Point A to Point B. The shorter the driveway, obviously the cheaper the cost but aesthetically, having a buffer or kink in the road that gives some privacy so that traffic doesn’t have a line of site right to the homestead is nice too.
I would suggest flagging out the route of your drive from the town road to your homestead and then getting a number of written estimates for exactly how much cost is involved. You can pace it off to get a sense of the distance you’re faced with. The land itself will dictate to a large extent how much road work will be needed.
Snow Plowing Your Homestead Driveway
For those of you who live in snowy climes, snow plowing will need to be factored in when laying out your driveway. A gentle sweeping turn is much better than a short, abrupt change in direction. At the Maine homestead, I plowed snow with a large blade on a skidder and had the power and maneuverability to deal with any road condition. But for someone in a pickup truck or farm tractor moving snow, you’ll be better off if you have direction changes that will allow you to keep your forward momentum going.
Don’t forget to create pockets along the roadside where you can push accumulated snow well off the road and into the woods or field. Additionally, the width of the road should be wider for those in snowy areas. It is amazing how the snow bank will build on either side of the road from plowing over the course of a winter. Over time, it will be like driving down a tunnel and a wide road with some pockets for pushing snow off to the sides will be a godsend. Remember that once those banks freeze solid, it will be a real chore to break them up to wing them back, so it’s best to wing the snow back as far as possible starting with the first snowstorm.
The last point of consideration is shade over your roadway. Our homestead in Maine had a long road that essentially wound its way through a forest and many large trees formed a shaded canopy in summer. Many sections never saw sunlight including the section of road that wound through the wet cedar stand. Conditions were always damp and the road surface was always wet. Over time, I thinned out the overstory of trees including the cedar trees which allowed sunlight in to dry the road bed. That made a huge difference in the road’s ability to dry out especially in the spring or after rains.
At the Maine homestead, every day, I took a walk down my woods road to fetch the mail. The lengthly drive had a number of turns and it was a lovely walk, one I treasured. On a warm summer day, with a sprinkling of sunlight on my shoulders as I strode down the drive, I knew I’d made the right decision to thin out and create an opening in the canopy to let the sun shine in. The bonus was it didn’t take long for the driveway to dry out and rarely did I come home with mud caked footwear.
Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!
Ron and Johanna
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