Tree-Chopping Technology

Like many people who tend large acreage tracts, Alex Stout was looking for an easier way to manage 92, 274 acres in eastern Pennsylvania. Lackawanna State Park is an ideal environment for invasive species like mulitfolora rose, autumn olive and Tartarian honeysuckle. Left unchecked, these nuisance varieties can quickly overtake an area, crowding out native species.

Stout and his crews had a Bobcat S250 with McClaren mud tracks, and were searching for an attachment to aid in resource-management efforts. They saw a mulching attachment which showed some promise. What they found was the ability to handle not only their invasive-species problems, but also their boundary maintenance, trail grooming, no-till-planting site prep, roadside vegetation maintenance and more.

Attached To Timesavings

The mulcher is powered by the utility vehicle’s hydraulics and has proven to be extremely useful in a variety of brush-clearing tasks. The biggest advantage it provides, according to Stout, is the timesavings. Municipal land stewards are always pressed for time--with more projects on-hand than can be completed. Back in the pre-mulcher days, many of these projects were completed by hand, which meant multiple workers with loppers. Stout has seen an exponential increase in productivity with the mulcher.

He cites an example where workers “cleared an area of about three acres near one of the park buildings. It was heavily infested with honeysuckle and other invasives, which had to be cleared by hand.” The project took 260 man-hours for the clearing--and there were still brush piles to dispose of (typically accomplished by running the brush through a chipper).

“With the Bull Hog we can do that same three-acre tract in about three days, or 24 man-hours. And that includes the mulching of the brush so there is no added time or cost,” adds Stout. Once cleared, fields are maintained with standard flail or rotary mowers. A once-a-year mowing is usually sufficient to keep the predatory species under control.

For large tracts of land, state parks might use bulldozers or tracked equipment to rip out the offending species. While effective at removing the invasives, a secondary problem was created--mounds of residual waste--which was typically stockpiled in hedgerows alongside fields. In addition to poor aesthetics, this method left the areas all but impassable. With the wood shredder, however, the previously stockpiled material is shredded into mulch, which stays on the ground to reduce erosion. As the mulch breaks down, it adds nutrients back to the soil, increasing tilth and fertility. An added benefit to the wood shredder is that it can mulch down to or below ground level. This has proven beneficial for addressing stumps and for no-till-planting preparations, says Stout.

Boundary Maintenance Benefits

While invasive-species control and field reclamation were the original projects, which drove State Parks to purchase the mulcher, other applications also are enjoying the benefits. One of those, boundary maintenance, includes clearing of border areas and posting signage. Often these are densely overgrown areas, which have received little, if any, attention in years (maybe decades). The mulcher clears a path along the border so that park employees can post signage alerting passersby they are entering a state park or safety zone.

Stout recalls one particular project that abutted private property used for hunting, thus requiring a safety zone to be cleared and marked. The initial boundary marking is identical, but the safety zone requires another path to be mulched 150 yards behind the first--with more signage posted. The mulcher can accomplish projects usually requiring two or three days by hand in a couple of hours, says Stout.

Happy Trails

Trail maintenance and the creation of new trails are other projects where the mulcher has proven to be a timesaver. Crews armed with loppers and chippers often accomplished trail grooming. This was a time-consuming process, but time was not a luxury available to Stout, who tends to the nine miles of trails at his primary park, or the 500 miles of trails within the region. The wood shredder, however, makes quick work of the vegetation encountered while grooming existing trails or blazing new ones. After processing unwanted vegetation, the shredder leaves a carpet of mulch--an ideal trail surface--in its wake.

I’m a Travelin’ Man …

There are a total of 26 administrative units within Park Region 4. At any given time, the mulcher can be found at any one of them. Easy transportability is clearly an advantage with shared equipment. “We have a low-boy trailer pulled by a tractor trailer,” says Stout, on transporting the equipment, “and some five-ton trucks with smaller low-boy-type trailers.”

The wood shredder and utility vehicle combination is easy to load onto either of the trailers, transport to the jobsite, then offload, and begin processing. In addition to saving processing time, the easy-to-move equipment also reduces transport time and costs. This has increased the demand for it, leading Stout to begin the process of acquiring a second Bull Hog.

While the ease of movement is certainly a benefit, the #1 advantage is the timesavings over hand labor. A close second, according to Stout, is the elimination of residual waste. “We can even grind stumps to ground level, or below. In a couple of weeks you can go back over the area with a flail or rotary mower, so that it stays under control.” Eliminating labor allows the land to be re-seeded with native vegetation faster and cheaper. This is clearly a winning strategy for this eastern Pennsylvania park district and the residents who enjoy the park’s many amenities.