Sounds like an adventure.
Living on an island in Alaska I have lots of friends who live some variation of the off-road off-grid life style or have cabins they've built in a similar manner where everything has to be sourced on sight or hauled in on your back (sometime if you've chosen your sight well by boat). So while I live on a road in a small town I do have plenty of this type of experience from helping out with friends places or just my own weekend/vacation time. Just to let you know where my advice is coming from.
The very 1st thing I think you need to figure out is how are you going to get to the site. Have you had the chance to fully scout your property? Do you know what the best access route is? Does the site have any streams, gullies, steep hillsides that might have to be crossed? Are there any really dense areas with lots of brush/vines etc. or areas with large blow downs. Is it better to skirt around these areas or spend some time clearing them? A good cleared access trail is going to be well worth the time you spend developing it. Remember you're going to be traveling across the route in all weather (that little trickle you can step over now might become a knee deep torrent that is going to be dangerous to cross with a fully loaded pack after a spring rain). That low area might turn into a boot
stealing mess after a few weeks of hoofing across it in a damp spring. Figuring out the access and spend you're first days on site creating a nice trail is going to save you so much physical strain and injury risk over the next weeks as you're carrying in heavy loads. It doesn't need to be a highway but a nice footpath...cleared of ankle killing roots, pack snatching brambles, and boot sucking muck holes. Something you can push a wheelbarrow or pull a small cart or sled along could be a big help. Sometimes carts are more hassle than help when moving loads, all depends on the terrain.
Once you know where you trail is going to start you need to consider a staging area. I would suggest a short access drive and a clearing where you can leave a vehicle. Something just in a bit from the main road and not visible from the road would be my 1st choice. A short drive that you can gate or just hang a chain across might give you a bit more security. Again it doesn't have to be fancy but a cleared area with space enough to turn a vehicle around. I'd actually make this my 1st camp site. Spend the 1st week or two right here. Build a small shed here. You're going to have times when you want to store loads near the road while you're waiting for muscle/time/weather conditions to get them to the main site. Sometimes you'll leave these in your car but there are going to be times when the supplies need be on site and the vehicle may not always be there. You're going to be spending a lot of time packing loads, taking everything out redistributing weight, figuring out how to fit that last thing or two into this load, realizing you can't even lift the pack off the ground, and leaving 1/3 of what you bought behind for the next trip in. You don't really want to be doing this on the side of the road. You also mentioned an atv and or cart. Having a shed to leave these in near the road is a good idea. Or just a covered carport type pole barn where you can organize your loads when it's wet/raining, snowing, etc. and store supplies out of the weather. A simple timber structure should go up pretty fast. You could just roof it with a tarp for now and take the whole thing down later if you don't need it long term. Or finish it off with a real roof and maybe a storage loft for a permanent structure later. Most people want to jump right into building at their more remote site but a good parking, staging, and storage area with road access is really something you're going to always need and want. It'll make your life so much easier if you just spend some time on this first thing.
So after I wrote this I reread your description and the fact you mention your site is 17 acres and has at road access on one side. So now I'm confused. That's really a pretty small area. I was thinking hike in as it would take you hours/miles to get into your site. But then a realized on 17 acres you're never going to be more than a 15 min walk from the road. Kinda changes the whole perspective. You'll easily be able to hike back and forth to the car and/or staging area multiple times a day if you need too. So not such a big deal to stress about what you bring in first. Also much easier to just set up a nice base camp in the staging area near your vehicles. No need to carry in your tents, sleeping bag, cookware, food, cloths, and all your tools on the 1st day. Leave all that a base camp. Set up a nice kitchen and a few creature comforts, like a good table/cook surface/worktop, if you're with your vehicles you can arrange for a few bigger heavier items (like a table, heavy dutch oven
to cook in, etc.) Maybe a few camping chairs, thicker foam pads or a few extra blankets to sleep better. String up some large tarps and create some wind and rain protection.
Slow down, spend some time making base camp comfortable and just exploring the site. Don't try to start cutting down trees and building a structure on day one. Get to know your site. Really spend some time evaluating the trees. Which ones do you really want to fell and which ones do you want to keep. Work on your trail and access. Go back to base camp every night and cook a nice dinner and get a good nights sleep. You're going to be working really hard, going to want a lot of calories, and a way to ease sore muscles. Allow yourself a bit of luxury while you're in base camp.
Plan to hike into your main site every morning with just what you need for that day's project
. Plan what you're doing and just take the tools/supplies for that project. Have a few projects lined up and an list of what you'll need for that project. If you have extra room in your pack take a few supplies for the next project on the list. Come out each evening with an empty pack and the next day take in a bit more. You'll quickly have all your tools and big supplies at the site, especially if you're not trying carry in food and personal goods all the time.
Start with felling some trees, take your chainsaw, axes, hand saws, etc. Everyone has different preferences for what type of axes they like. Some of it is just personal, how the ax is balanced, how heavy it is, the strength of the person swinging it etc. Do you and your family know how you prefer to fell trees? My husband and I each have different ways we like to fell trees and different tools we use. The big chainsaw is nice for large trees and bucking up firewood. But it does wear on the arms and shoulders. Our lighter smaller saw takes longer to cut each tree but I can use it all day without the muscle strain the larger saw gives me. A good sharp ax can actually be quicker when felling small trees. Axes for felling are different than those for splitting firewood
, and those are different than ones for timber framing, etc. Also each person is going to have a weight and balance they like best. I'd say don't try to buy and carry in all your tools at once. Get one or two basic items and start using them. See what really works best for you and for your children (they are not likely to be the same for all of you). You're not going to be off in the remote wilderness. You can easily take a weekly (or even daily if you need too) trip into town and buy, trade, or borrow tools and supplies. Or really take your time and make your own as you need them. Then you won't have wasted time, money, and effort on bringing in things other people told you you need but that don't fit your building style, or the local conditions, or whatever.
While you're living in base camp you can also get your daily routines down. Which pots and pans really work for how you're cooking. What is the best way for store and filter water for your group. Do you really use those buckets or prefer these totes? Same thing with clothes, and sleeping gear, etc. You're likely going to find some things you think are essential you never use, or you like one stye of tool better than a different one. Maybe you much prefer a fixed blade in a sheath over the leatherman you thought you'd always use. Leave these things at base camp and then plan some trips into town to trade, sell
, barter things you're not using and pick up the things you really need.
1st task, Clear and level a nice area where you can work. You're going to be dragging around logs, debarking, trimming, measuring cutting, stacking, sorting, etc. Having a cleared space to work is important. Build some simple devices to help you. Some sawhorses, log holders, some block and braces to move and hold your logs. Maybe a shave bench. Pick a site between a couple of good trees and sting up some rope. Hang a tarp to shed all that spring rain. You'll be able to keep mostly dry and work in difficult weather.
First thing you build on your site is good weatherproof and rodent proof storage. You need a good safe location to leave tools. Tools left in the elements rust like crazy. Small rodents love to chew tool handles and leather work gloves. Moths and other bugs will happily destroy clothing. Everything will want your food supplies. If a mouse
or squirrel can chew into it they will. If you make it safe from rodents a raccoon will figure out how to open the latch or lift off a lid, plenty of critters will dig into sheds, or climb walls, etc. So before you leave anything on site make sure you have a way to secure it from rain and wind as well as whatever might want to eat it, chew it up, or nest in it. Once you have a secure shed you can start bringing in tools and supplies. IF you're staying at base camp at 1st you don't need to worry as much about food storage right off. Just eat most your meals at base camp and just bring in lunches and maybe a handful of backup/emergency items in case you need an afternoon snack or end up staying out through dinner.
I wouldn't bother with a temp sleeping structure. Anything you can throw up in a day or two is not likely to be small and cramped. Plus not too likely to be very weatherproof nor keep out the bugs. And bug are going to be your biggest enemy during spring and summer. The tent will likely serve you better. A second tent would be a good idea. You and your adult children might each like their own living space. Plus it gives you a safety backup option when one tent collapses under high winds in the middle of the worst thunderstorm of the century. A hammock with a bug net over it is a really comfortable way to sleep in the summer. Plus you can easily move it around if you want to spread out, have some personal space, or just take advantage of a different view now and again. A thermarest type mattress
in a hammock is really nice. Adds just a bit more support and some warmth from cool breezes.
Spend your time and effort on structures you are going to want to keep around longer term. A good workshop/large shed would be high on my list. You can always string some hammocks up inside it if the weather is really bad to sleep and take them down to work during the day. Do you have any timber framing experience? A simple timber framed structure would be a great 1st building. Get up the frame and the roof. Now you have a nice dry area to work and/or sleep. Then spend some time to finish out the walls. Cordwood walls might be a good option since you have timber. Or wattle and daub. Do walls with some insulation value and this building will be a snug place to spend your 1st winter. Later you'll have a really nice year round shop or maybe one of the adult kids would prefer to continue using this as a living space.
An outdoor kitchen with a covered eating area and secure food storage would be next up for me. Will make life around camp much better and still be nice to have and use even when the house is built. I'd build a clay dome oven if it was me. Really nice to bake in and if you have clay soils on site everything could be sourced right there. Its an easy way to slow cook/simmer things for hours since they hold their heat so well. bit of time to stoke up the fire and get it nice and hot in the morning and then fill it with pots of beans and rice, a roast or a good stew in a dutch oven, etc. Close it up and walk away. Come back a dinnertime and everything will have slow cooked/simmer all day. When you're working all day it's nice to have a meal that you can prep and then doesn't need any tending until it's ready to eat that night. Or fire it up, bake your pizza for dinner, load up some loaves of bread, they'll bake while you eat, take out the bread, and load up your pots of rice, or some grains or porridge and go to sleep. They'll cook overnight and you'll have a warm breakfast the next day.
Do you have any tree felling experience? That's where you're going to need to start. You can build some simple structures out of raw wood but most types of building you're going to need properly prepared and aged logs. Most people spend a summer felling logs (or sometimes a winter as some trees and building types benefit from cutting the trees when there is no sap running during the winter). Then dragging them to a storage area, debarking and prepping them, and letting them dry for a season or two before using. If you want to be in a structure this winter you're going to be building with green wood. This is ok for some building types but you need to understand how the wood is going to dry, and in the process shrink, warp, and crack. This might differ depending upon what tree species you'll be using. A big concern if you're going to mill any and use boards. Less of a concern for timbers, might be a concern for poles. Maybe your husband knows this already from his carpentry experience but building things with milled 2x4 is a different ballgame than starting by cutting down the tree. If you do build with green wood you're going to need to leave the timbers exposed for at least a season or two so they can properly dry out. That means you're not going to want to finish a house, plaster, insulate or seal it up right away.
Actually felling trees in the spring might be the worst time to do it. Sap is running quite strong and the cambiun layer is going to be swollen with sap. These means the trees will be really wet and heavy. It also means if they dry too quickly they'll be more likely to warp or crack. Cutting and prepping a bunch of spring trees then exposing them to a really hot summer conditions is likely going to be a problem. Drying logs in shady area where they are not exposed to direct sun is often recommended to avoid temperature swings and rapid drying. If you're using those logs in a structure when they're green they are going to be immediately exposed to sun and little protection from summer heat/rapid drying. The plus side to felling in the spring is that the bark slips/peels off really easy because it is so wet and swollen. If you can then let the logs age in the round you'll have less work. Sometimes it's better not to debark the logs as this will slow down the drying of the outer layer and keep it more compatible with drying on the heartwood. Again this can depend upon species and time of year the tree is cut. High sap content wood is also more prone to rot and more attractive to insects because of the higher sugar content in the wood. I'd at least wait until summer when the trees are fully leafed out to cut any. Growth is much slower then so the water/nutrient needs of the tree are reduced and thus sap content compared to the spring. Plus cutting trees in the spring is just no fun. Everything is full of sap and sticky, sticky, sticky. You'll be covered in sap and pitch...which is almost impossible to wash off. Even worse so will all your tools. If you're using a chainsaw you're going to have to replace the chain often and soak and clean them so you'll have to have more spare chains in the rotation and spend a lot more elbow grease freeing the chains and bars. Axes and saws are a little less trouble to clean but they will get coated with sap and bits of dirt and grit will stick to them or between the teeth and they will dull faster. You'll still need to clean and sharpen them more often. I cut sown some pine this last spring and bucked it up for firewood. That stuff bleed everywhere and made huge mess of my tools and me. Even after 10 months of drying there are still streaks of sticky sap on all the cut ends. I've gotten to the point in the woodpile where I've starting using this pine and it's still a pain to handle. I keep forgetting that it's mixed onto the wood pile and get my hands sticky whenever I go to pick up a piece without my gloves on. I also got a nice glob of pitch and a stain on one of my better coats because I grabbed an armload of wood and carried it in on my way past the woodshed not thinking about the fact I was wearing my better coat and there was that sticky pine in the pile. I can't even imagine trying to build with this stuff or using the sticky poles in a structure.
Almost everyone I know that builds up here starts by just spending the 1st summer on site, doing prep work, and felling trees, maybe building a few simple storage sheds and a tent platform, possibly doing some foundation work and/or rockwork. Then they come out for the winter, let everything age, dry, and settle. Then the real building happens the second season when everything is prepped and ready. Now Kentucky winters are not the same but it is going to get cold and wet and probably some snow and freezing temps. Building a structure that is good for the winter starting from the trees is no easy task in one summer. If you're also trying to improve the land, build some garden beds
, forage, hunt, and preserve food, put up a winters supply of firewood, and so on. Its a huge task! And possibly not the right way to do it from a timber strength and longevity point of view. Just something to think about and consider when you're planning where to spend your first winter.
Ok I feel like I've written a novel and barely even gotten started on all the things I could tell you. But don't want to preach at you if you already know a lot of this. I haven't even started on started on foraging and wild edibles which is actually a passion of mine.....