Diana Lynn Rau: Who said trail building is easy?
August 21, 2014
The Subaru/IMBA (Int"l Mtn Biking Assoc) classes sponsored by Headwaters Trails Alliance several weeks ago had an entire workshop oriented toward the guys who put their hands and tools in the dirt. And then they took those people out to the dirt to work on an actual trail reroute on WTB.
The instructors let those people put their new classroom knowledge to work. And after work by the Forest Service, Youth Core, IMBA, HTA, and GMBA, the Forest Service is getting rave reviews of the WTB reroute. Take the time to ride the fun new singletrack that incorporates optional technical features.
This new section incorporates several of the essential elements of trailbuilding. First, is the trail sustainable? Does it have a minimum impact to the ecosystem on the environmental level? On the social level, does it reduce or minimize user conflict? On the economic level, does it require minimum maintenance?
Next, does it address the factors of erosion: usage, wind, water and gravity? People have to think about how these factors affect the trail and observe these effects through time if possible. Usage straight down a fall-line or a river bed just doesn't work over time. Water goes downhill and you have to think about volume and velocity as well as realize that water doesn't like to change direction. Contour trails are much easier to maintain and are much easier on the ecosystem.
Another essential element is the grade of the trail (often based on the ability level of the trail). This incorporates average grade which should always be less than 8 percent, the soils the trail is built on, the outslope of the trail which sheds water but which should not be more than 5 percent, and the inclusion of grade reversals which create undulations in the trail that are fun to ride but also stop water and create watershed areas lessening erosion. That's a mouthful but these simple factors are so important.
And these factors are all determined by who will be the users of these trails? What do they want from these trails? Hikers want viewpoints , trail runners want loops, equestrians need compacted trail treads, and bikers like different combinations based on ability level.
Beginners want basic wide open trails that are mellow and smooth with good visibility. Intermediate riders are more self-sufficient and confident – they want more distance and love loops. The more advanced riders want more advanced features – the steps, the jumps, the logs, and sick climbs and downhills incorporated into the natural features that are tight and technical. In limited spaces, you can build these different trail levels into loops or clusters like cloverleafs from a central point and can incorporate skills areas in different parts as optional routes.
But different level areas should be defined by signage so the wrong users don't get into the wrong areas except by choice. You can't have beginner trails that lead into difficult areas without having another way out. Again, you have to think through the progression and riders want to know where they are and what to expect. Signage must be readable and clear to the observer.
Often classroom knowledge gets put to work in bits and pieces. Part gets applied but other parts are forgotten. Rocks lining a wet section of the trail are great but the rocks need to allow the water to flow through while keeping the rider from digging into mud creating bottomless mudholes. Hikers can negotiate steep switchbacks but trails designed for bikes need to have the proper radius in the turns to allow accents and descents that are smooth and appropriate for the level of difficulty. Again, trail builders must think through the application of different trail building techniques to make sure they work for the particular situation.
Who said building a trail is easy? Trail users need to give feedback on the system they are using and consider helping to create the system they want to see. Don't complain unless you are willing to help out.
Think it through and come help at the workday Aug. 30 sponsored by the Forest Service, HTA, and Beavers Sports Shop. Meet at St Louis Creek Campground Trailhead at 845am. RSVP to Keith Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 970-726-5988.