Compact utility loaders are helping Rich Edwards, a trails specialist with the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), reach the association's goal to provide more trail opportunities for mountain bikers by creating new trails and rebuilding old ones in city, county, state and national recreation areas.
Building trails used to be done by hand at a rate of about 10 linear ft. per labor hour. But with mechanized equipment, Edwards indicates the rate has more than tripled to about 30 to 35 linear ft. per labor hour. "If we can reduce the cost per foot to build a trail, there will be more miles of trail for all trail users," he says.
Edwards and the contractors he works with rely heavily on a Ditch Witch SK500 mini track loader. At 42 in. wide, the extra rubber on the ground offers added stability. It is also a nice complement to the SWECO machines (specially designed steel-tracked mini trail blazing dozers) Edwards uses for initial clearing.
"We choose machines that give us the maximum power in the smallest footprint," he says. "That's our first qualification. The machine that does that best is a SWECO. We like the power of these 5-ton machines, but they're more difficult to transport and there are places where we can't use them. So in a lot of situations, we'll use the smaller walk-behind skid steer as our primary machine. We also use the smaller machine behind the larger ones to do finish work because they don't sink into the soft ground as much, and they are more agile working on steep cross slopes."
Trails are typically only 3 to 4 ft. wide and generally are cut into slopes with a 30% to 40% grade, but may approach even 100%. "It's a pretty steep environment that's typically rocky and usually forested," says Edwards.
Because the jobsite is not the typical graded building site, it is not always conducive to equipment. That's one reason Edwards appreciates that the SK500 is a walk-behind unit, particularly on side slopes. "If the machine goes over the edge, an operator doesn't go with it," he points out.
"Overall, these machines help us build high-quality, single-track trails that don't look like a machine has been used," Edwards notes. "We want to maintain the aesthetics of a natural setting that people want to see. We try to leave the trail as natural looking as possible, and as low-impact to the environment as possible. And as the trail ages, we want it to look like an old-style hiking trail that has always been there and fits into the landscape. Our goal is to build sustainable trails that don't damage the environment and will last 100 years or more."
Bobcat MT55 Mini Track Loader
The 2,679-lb. MT55 mini track loader is just 41.5 in. wide, but its wider, turf-friendly lug tracks lower ground pressure to 4.1 psi.
- 550-lb. rated operating capacity
- 23.5-hp Kubota liquid-cooled diesel engine
- 12-gpm auxiliary hydraulic flow and 2,900-psi hydraulic system enable use of 18 attachments
- Bob-Tach mounting system
- Optional ride-on platform can be installed or removed in seconds
Kanga 7 Series Fat Track Model
The 7 Series Fat Track Model offers full-time non-marking tracks and increased ground clearance.
- Gas or diesel engines up to 24 hp
- Maintenance-free track system with few parts and replaceable segments
- Affixed stand-on platform
- Smooth fingertip controls operate direction and speed
- Also features a self-leveling bucket, auto auxiliary cutout and fully sealed transmission
Ditch Witch SK500 Mini Skid Steer
The SK500 walk-behind mini skid steer has a 500-lb. lifting capacity rated at 35% of tip capacity.
- 24-hp Honda air-cooled engine
- 7- or 9-in.-wide rubber tracks powered by dual independent hydrostatic ground drives
- Ground drive pilot control provides responsive steering with little or no vibration to control handles
- 60.5-in. maximum dump height with standard bucket
- 12-gpm hydraulic system provides power on demand
Compact Power Boxer Diesel
The Boxer is powered by a 26-hp Perkins diesel engine.