I visited my woodlot in Royalston, Mass. for the first time as owner yesterday. The primary objective of the visit was to show the property to wife Nancy and son David for the first time. Maybe now we have a new Thanksgiving weekend tradition.
My wife humors me about this desire to have a woodlot, and while my very practical-minded son remains skeptical, he already knows his old man is an oddball. Frankly, most people don't get it. Since the conservation restrictions on the property preclude building or any other development, and that removes any possibility of value increase associated with those activities, many can't see the point of owning a property. And, I have to admit, the place is a mess. The forest was cut over 30 or so years ago and it hasn't been touched since. All the old skid trails are overgrown and obscured, and were likely pretty rough in the first place, so there is no vehicle access. The re-growth following a heavy harvest has been vigorous but unmanaged. In places walking and even seeing can be challenging. I think of it as a diamond in the rough with lots of low-hanging fruit.
A secondary purpose of this trip was to start working on locating and marking the back boundary. Two sides of the property are easy to find: one side is along the road, and another is along a power line. The third boundary - between my woodlot and the adjacent five acres - seems to have been marked years ago with red paint blazes that seem reasonable. The back lot line - 565 feet long - is unmarked. The deed gives compass bearing and distance of the line, and I've located corner stakes, so locating the line and marking it should be easy, right?
I can't see from one corner stake to the other through 565 feet of heavy forest so my plan was to use a compass to project a line through the woods from one corner to the other, marking trees just inside the boundary line as I went. I made a quick attempt to do this last time I was there a few weeks ago by simply holding the compass in my hand, sighting over the device from tree to tree, flagging the trees as I went. I wasn't satisfied with that attempt because as I emerged from the woods out into the powerline right-of-way where one corner is, I missed the stake by 50 feet or so.
I attributed that sloppy work to haste and imprecision as I held the compass in my hand and stumbled through the undergrowth. So, yesterday I came prepared for more careful surveying. I used the same old Silva Ranger compass I've had for nearly 30 years, but this time I mounted it on a tripod and gave it a laser beam (photo). Using a spring clamp fashioned from 3" PVC pipe (non-metallic so as not to interfere with the compass needle) I clamped the compass onto a laser level I use when building decks, etc. I then had an instrument that should have been very well suited to marking the boundary. Starting at a property corner, I dialed in the bearing specified in the deed - established in about 1981 when a larger property was subdivided into the present small lots - and turned on the laser. With the able assistance of my helpers, we followed the red dot of the beam through the woods, clearing small obstacles until it hit a tree (photo) or became too faint to see. Unobstructed, the beam could easily be seen 100 feet or more along the line. (Note to self: Use a dark target next time.) The few times the beam hit a bigger tree, we carefully offset the tripod a bit to the side or moved beyond the tree and started again.
As we moved along, I was both impressed and perplexed that we kept encountering flagging I had placed on my first attempt to mark the property line. I was impressed that I had done so well with a hand-held compass, but perplexed by the realization that I would still miss the corner stake. I'm not sure what is wrong. While I tried very carefully to set the compass to the correct bearing, my compass is graduated in 2-degree increments while the bearings in the deed are specified to 15 minutes. I'm not yet convinced that's the source of my problem. I think my precision is acceptable but I may have a problem with accuracy. Perhaps one of the stakes is in the wrong spot, or the bearing in the deed is incorrect. Clearly, I have more work to do on this next time I visit.