Most of the time basic trail maintenance can be done with the simplest of hand tools, with just one or two people. Because the barrier of entry is low both in terms of tools and training, trails have become a piece of infrastructure largely maintained by volunteers in many places.
Gates are a terrible component of the trail experience. Whether riding, hiking, running, or otherwise, having to suspend your enjoyment to deal with opening and closing a gate has a tendency to bring you right back to reality. If you ask a nearby rancher or the individual who holds an adjacent grazing lease near a trail on federal land they will tell you just how terrible gates really are. Trail users have been known to leave gates open from time to time and stock have a knack for finding and making their way through open gates, and onto public highways, and in front of your Sprinter van after dark on a blind corner…
Fortunately, we have the perfect solution to trail fence crossings. There are many solutions out there, but none of them quite hold an effectiveness or user-friendliness candle to the THAD. Horseback riders still have to stop and open a gate, although they are assured to securely fasten it behind them, being experienced with stock. Cyclists, hikers, trail runners, even canines can cross fences using a THAD without even slowing down. Even though these above-ground cattle-guards are so user-friendly, in 30 years of use at dozens of locations throughout the Black Hills there has never been a report of cattle escaping through one.
It gets even better, if you can believe that. The above-ground cattle-guard is definitely not a new concept and can be found installed on trails far and wide. These fence crossing contraptions are typically welded out of steel into a single monolithic unit. We have heard numerous reasons given why steel makes a superior rollover gate, and they are all pretty much garbage.
In the early years of testing wooden variants, it was determined 2×4 dimensional lumber was not always up to the task. Since constructing rollovers from 2×6 dimensional lumber failures have been minimal. Typical failure points are the lowest tread, or ladder-rung if you will, to the ground on each side, if the transition up the ramp is abrupt. This can be mitigated during installation by ensuring the transition is not abrupt. Treads on steel rollovers fail too, and they seem to fail no matter the dimension or type of steel used for construction.
This brings us to the really big deal, the really really big deal. If a tread breaks, you cut a 36″ length of 2×6, or have one cut for you at the local hardware store, and install the new tread with nothing more than a cordless drill or impact driver. Any potential failure mode of one of these wooden THAD’s can be quickly and easily fixed by a volunteer fielding simple hand tools. Nobody has to transport a welder into the field and the associated fire danger doesn’t exist. There is a very minimal cost to the maintenance equipment required, and it is equipment main trail volunteers already have access to.
Construction and installation are similarly simplified. If the THAD must be installed at a funny angle or on highly uneven terrain, a battery-powered circular saw, reciprocating saw or even a chainsaw can be used to easily modify the THAD to fit the location at the time of installation. These THAD’s are constructed in 3 components, which are joined together during installation. This makes transport to remote installation sites much easier than most alternatives.
All of this at a construction cost of around $100. The hardest part becomes re-stretching the fence post-installation. We have some solutions for that too, stay tuned.
Improving trail accessibility with roll over gates: Read about how our local volunteer trail organization, Black Hills Trails, built a pile of this same design for use on area trails.
So what now? A slick full-color construction manual showing you all the critical dimensions of a THAD. Now your trails too can have the best fence crossings. Let us know if you install one of these in your area!