For part of my path into the garden I built a narrow walkway with old spare bricks that were lying around. Over the years it became overgrown, first with the mosses I wanted and then with more rank growth. I went to work re-exposing it this year and happily discovered that the soil around it was raised two or three inches...just enough for a piece of micro scenery and a place for the cat to saunter.
How about further into the garden, where I want to maintain a little more surface height? Last fall as I harvested the Jerusalem artichokes I laid their long stems in a parallel arrangement so they formed a kind of loose "sidewalk."
This worked pretty well. When I sneak back into this part of the garden they distribute my weight and preserve the lift and texture of the soil underneath, adding material as they disintegrate. Minimal compaction is what I'm after, along with a medium that will allow plenty of opportunity for things to pop up once I'm through pruning my lovely ninebark and in June, the fragrant but out of hand mock orange.
There's one negative to my technique. The moldering stems make great habitat for snails. I haven't found any way to control them anyway, other than picking them off one by one, so I guess the trade off is worth it.