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This question belongs more to forestry than to gardening per se, but as this seems to be the Stack that's closest in subject matter, I'll go ahead and ask anyway.

I'm writing a story where the main character, while walking in a forest, stumbles upon an old, long-forgotten mule trail that nobody uses anymore. But then I asked myself, is such a thing even possible? I mean, if a trail isn't used for some time, won't it eventually become so overgrown with vegetation as to be completely inaccessible as well as indistinguishable from the ambient shrubbery? If not, what would be some naturally occurring barriers to prevent this overgrowth from happening?

Many thanks for any insights!

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    I am glad you took a chance to ask your question on our site. Where does gardening, landscaping end and forestry begins? It is tough to define botanical and biological and earth science sites. Life does not fit nicely in one box or the other! – stormy Nov 23 '18 at 21:54
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Well you're right, any disused track or trail would fairly rapidly disappear without relatively frequent use. If there were lots of Rhododendron ponticum either side of the trail, it might remain reasonably clear, since they have an allelopathic effect on other plants to a degree, but its still unlikely. It might also remain relatively clear if there were old railway tracks or some sort of left over hard surfacing beneath the soil, but even then, something like ivy or brambles would probably smother it anyway, depending what part of the world you're talking about.

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    Chances are good that any old, unused by humans, will become part of the deer trail network. You have to look to find those, but many persist year after year after year. Smaller beasties leave trails too, but the hooves of deer are good at packing dirt and chopping off underbrush. – Wayfaring Stranger Nov 23 '18 at 18:07
  • You both make excellent points. Thank you very much! I will incorporate the deer thing into my story. – Kim Fierens Nov 23 '18 at 18:10
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    While riding in the wilderness, there is no end to animal trails. Old logging roads are still visible. Usually with an undulating animal trail very clearly defined following the old road. When riding in the wilderness, we horse people take our pruners to prune back branches throughout the corridor as we ride. We all also carry a pruning saw to get storm fall cleared, the path easy to follow, zig zagging switchbacks, animals adhering to the contour lines to keep the path more level and less washed out by big rains. Tracking animals by their prints teach the language of the forest. – stormy Nov 23 '18 at 21:48
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    Expert trackers can 'pull back' the soil on these trails to see the tracks decades before, pretty cool. – stormy Nov 23 '18 at 21:50
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    A deer trail would definitely work for you - when I owned a house in the country, we had a deer trail that had been there for so long it had become lower than the surrounding soil. Another thing that would help keep a deer trail visible would be a slight slope, where the trail travels uphill/downhill and rain creates a slight gully. – Jurp Nov 23 '18 at 23:09

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