Looking for ideas for wooded mess of a backyard

Hi folks, landscaping newbie here. I'm looking for ideas for what I can do with this slice of my back yard:


This is part of the back yard of my house, in zone 5B in western Michigan. This is on the south side of the property. It's about 30-40 feet from left to right and goes back about 15 feet (you can see my neighbor's house and yard in the background). As you can see it's very woodsy and peaceful. It's also a mess, because

  • The back half it is overrun with maple saplings, dead leaves, and creeper vines
  • There's too much shade for any grass to grow (see the dirt area between the hammock and fire pit)
  • When the original owners built the house, they dumped a bunch of construction debris in the part of this area between the fire pit and the composting bin (which we no longer use) and covered it over with dirt and let the leaves and vines take over. That debris includes concrete chunks, bits of siding, plywood, and even nails and screws.

Also, it's not flat. The panorama shot doesn't show it but there's a bulge that goes up from the fire pit over to where the compost bin is. Here's a shot from the fire pit looking toward that compost bin that kind of shows it:


I think the bulge is from the construction debris, but I've not excavated to find out for sure.

I do like how shaded and peaceful this area is, so I don't want to just start cutting down trees. In fact a focal point of this spot is a very large cherry tree (see the first pic) that's around 70 feet tall. What I would like to do is make more of this wooded area usable for sitting or walking through, while maintaining the woodsy-ness and the shade. For example when my 8-year old son plays around out there, I'm always worrying if he's going to step on a nail, or what else might be out there. One particular thought was to clear out an area at the base of the cherry tree and put a sitting area or a picnic table, maybe with a concrete pad or wooden platform — I can't do that now because of the vines and debris, and because it's not flat.

Thanks in advance for any ideas.

submitted by /u/Rtalbert235
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