In my last post I talked about how we are planning to design our farm according to permaculture principles. Part of the design process entails creating a detailed, accurate “to-scale” map of our property. In order to do this the first thing we needed to do was map the property boundaries.
Ever since we moved here I’ve been trying to locate the various property markers around our site. The fact is, when we bought the place we didn’t really know what lay at the bottom half of the property. Of course we had a schematic diagram and we knew the size and general shape of the place, but being totally unfamiliar with the area we really didn’t know much else. The first couple of months here was a process of discovery as we ventured into the woods at the bottom 2 acres and discovered a charming woodland and the fabulous discovery that it bordered a section of the Trans Canada Trail. It was like Christmas here for a while in February and March (until the woodland understory exploded with growth and we could no longer walk through it!). We had a much better idea of where our boundaries were by this point, but still nothing too accurate.
We had a map showing where our property markers were supposed to be, but as anybody who has attempted this will tell you, it’s not always so easy to translate that to finding them on the ground. Property markers are iron stakes that may have been in the ground for 50 to 100 years depending on the age of the property. In that time they get overgrown with trees and shrubs, buried in soil, and essentially lost. So whenever I’ve had some spare time I’ve taken to hunting them down. I was only able to find one of the four corner markers, and in total I’ve probably racked up a few hours trying to find the others. It became somewhat of an obsession for me. What can I say? I’m one of those gals who digs maps, spreadsheets, and other geeky stuff like that.
Well today was a lovely sunny day, temps were not too cold (around 4 C, which made me feel bad for those easterners braving the winter storms right now), so I decided to head to the local tool rental place and get myself a Pin Detector. This is essentially a metal detector that is designed to find property markers. I was hopeful that it would help determine whether, in fact, our markers were even still there (they get lost despite it being illegal to remove them, and it costs a lot to have them replaced).
It took me all of 15 seconds to find the first one, in the northeast corner. I’d already found the wooden marker, which had rotted and been moved around by animals, and some flagging tape that was just the right size to have been wrapped around a pin. I’d gone over that area with a metal rake pretty thoroughly, and had to laugh when the pin detector started whining in a spot I’d gone over before. Just dumb luck my rake had missed it, buried only a 1/4 inch or so below the surface. I pounded in a piece of rebar and wrapped tape around it, then moved on to the most difficult site, the northwest corner.
This area was covered with salal, as well as heavy layers of fallen branches, rotten wood, and vine-y ground cover. It is the edge of a Douglas Fir forest, and the ground cover consists of dense, woody mulch and lots of thick shrubbery. It took me about 20 minutes to find the pin, resting in a hollow between fallen tree branches, and buried beneath about 2 or 3 inches of debris and soil. It took so long because I had no specific idea of where it might be (no wooden stake had been found). I’d eventually gone across the path to the neighbour’s pin, which I knew lay directly north of ours. With that as my guide I was able to stay on course and find our pin. I pounded in a tall stake and flagged that, so pleased that now we could draw a boundary line across the top of our property (the north border).
The final pin to find was the southwest corner marker (the southeast pin being the only one whose white wooden marker post was still intact and in place). I’d already been exploring heavily here. It’s a rather fascinating place: as I learned recently this area was home to a huge logging operation in the 1910’s and 1920’s. There are various old bottles and steel pans to be found in the woods at the bottom of our property, which borders what used to be the railway that carried the timber to market (it’s now part of the Trans Canada Trail). Remains of the old fence that bounded the northern side of the railroad can still be seen at the bottom of our property: some fence posts still stand, most have fallen over, the rusted mesh wiring still there. Anyways, I’d spent a long time down there raking aside the salal and shrubs in the general vicinity of where the pin should be, breaking back dead limbs and clearing a path wide enough to walk along. I thought I’d done a pretty good coverage of the area looking for the pin (as with the northeast corner of our property, I’d found the rotted wooden pin marker and some scattered flagging tape remnants). With the pin detector t took me about 5 seconds to locate the pin, which was buried about 2 inches below solid soil, upon which lay some twigs and a few small growing shrubs.
We now have a complete rectangle that defines our property. On the next sunny weekend Husband and I will venture out with twine and connect the corners to get a good idea of where the boundaries lie. This won’t be so easy since the long side of our property is several hundred feet. Nevertheless, we’ll give it our best shot (and we do have a couple of landmarks along the long sides we can use to help line things up). Then I can start the site mapping process, using triangulation and line extension methods to measure distances between objects, all with reference to the property markers. This may sound like a lot of work, and it will be, but I can’t tell you how much I love this sort of thing so for me it will be a very exciting process. I think visually, and to have a scale map of our place will set me to endless joyous hours planning what should go where.
So the moral of the story is, while hunting around in the bushes for pin markers may be fun, save yourself thousands of dollars in surveyors fees and go rent a pin detector. It’s kind of like treasure hunting, and if you discover a pin missing you can play ignorant (unlike the surveyors, who told me it could add significantly to their $2000 estimate to survey our 4 acres if a pin was found to be missing, as they would be obligated by law to replace it).