Life on Earth

Lightly On The Land


Trail building best practices

Say you need to lay a new bike trail in the hills, or you have a piece of property that could use a footpath down to the creek, or you volunteer one weekend to repair some trails for a local wildlife organization but none of the other volunteers know what to do. You need this fabulous manual. It will instruct you in the better ways to build and maintain footpaths with sensitivity, and how to deal with the three primary enemies of all roads: water, water, and water. I’ve made some trails and I sure wish I had this book long ago. It’s the best of a few alternatives. The insights are hard-earned and not commonplace, and will make a huge difference in how often you’ll have to come back to fix what you thought you already fixed. I’ve spent enough of my life living on trails to really appreciate a well-made one. Here’s how to make great trails.

-- KK 07/17/13


Measuring Distances by Pacing

In ancient times, distances were often determined by the length of a person's stride. Knowing how to pace is a valuable skill in our day, too, since it allows a trail worker to estimate distances simply by walking.

Developing an accurate measuring pace is a learned skill. Use a tape measure or measuring wheel to mark off a 100-foot distance on flat ground. Beginning at one end, walk to the other with a normal stride, counting your steps as you go, then divide 100 by the number of steps.

Early forestry manuals make the distinction between a step (count every time either foot strikes ground) and a /pace/ (two steps--count only when the left foot strikes ground). Some strides are easier to calculate in paces, others in steps.


Stump Removal

The tribulations of stump removal will try your patience as do few other tasks in trail work. When you match your intelligence to that of a stump, though, chances are better than even that you will be at a slight advantage. Granted, the stump has nothing to think about except how to stay firmly situated in the center of your trail, but a bit of cleverness on your part may persuade even the most tenacious root ball to ease its grip and go away.




Advantages of Building Downhill

Because of the nature of switchback design, the likelihood of accurate treat placement is much greater when you build down through the turn than if you try to go the other way. If the general direction of trail construction has been uphill, stop the upward excavation about 100 feet from a proposed switchback. Move up the stake line 50 feet beyond the turn and build the track back down to the switchback location. Construct the switchback itself, and then continue downhill construction, fine-turning the location until you link up with the tread that has already been completed.



The rocks embedded in a rock water bar are the last-resort barrier; the slope of the trail itself should shed most of the water.



An ever-widening braid of beaten-down trails is a common problem in meadows and alpine tundra.


Close off unwanted trails and make the remaining tread the most inviting route for travelers.



All-thread rods can be tightened during maintenance to keep railing posts secure.

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