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Spring 2012

Building and maintaining Alaskan island trails

A Bobcat utility vehicle with RapidLink attachment system makes the impossible possible

Andy Schroeder

Andy Schroeder

In a wilderness area unlike most places on earth, Alaska’s Kodiak Island, the second largest island in the United States, is ruled by its environment — rugged mountains, wide U-shaped valleys, abundant land and marine life, and dense forests of spruce, a coniferous evergreen that can grow up to 300 feet tall.

Prominent throughout the island are 350 miles of hiking trails. Development, maintenance and promotion of the trails system is the mission of the Island Trails Network, a member-supported, non-profit organization.

“Our goal is to reduce the impact of the trails on the environment,” says Andy Schroeder, executive director and founder. “We want people to use the trails throughout the countryside without changing the character of the area.”

The Island Trails Network partners with government organizations such as the Forest Service and the Department of Natural Resources. “Most of the government agencies use us for all things pertaining to trails,” Schroeder says.

One nagging question for Schroeder and his small seasonal staff and dozens of volunteers was how to build trails without damaging the environment. The answer arrived in summer 2011 — a Bobcat® 3450 4x4 utility vehicle, purchased from Bobcat of Juneau.

The Island Trails Network Bobcat 3450 4x4 utility vehicle

The Island Trails Network Bobcat 3450 4x4 utility vehicle

“There is no way we would be able to do some of our work without the 3450,” Schroeder says. “The 3450 makes the impossible possible and allows us to easily and quickly complete projects that are important to our mission and our community.”

Attachments improve productivity
The Bobcat 3450, paired with the RapidLink attachment mounting system, allows operators to efficiently use attachments such as buckets, pallet forks and a snow blade. The RapidLink system features a 500-pound lift capacity and 2-foot lift height.

For Schroeder and his staff, the utility vehicle, equipped with a bucket or pallet fork, has two primary uses: moving materials and people over the island’s hills and through the dense forest.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between trail maintenance and trail construction,” says Schroeder, “because when we repair a trail, we may cover up the old trail alignment and create a new one while we are doing work, such as reducing the slope angles or trying to decrease erosion. At times the best thing is to erase the old trail and start a re-route.”

Four-wheel drive
The four-wheel drive feature of the 3450 is especially valuable in the rugged terrain of Kodiak Island. It sends torque to every wheel when the rear wheels start to lose traction and the front wheels engage to power through slippery terrain.

Most of the projects require large amounts of construction materials. “If we are building a trail that is two miles back in the woods, we may have to move 10,000 pounds of bridge materials, sometimes under a tree canopy, but always over soft, highly erosive soils,” Schroeder says. “We found using the 3450 with the Bobcat pallet fork attachment is the best way to do it without creating more of a mess.”