Tag Archives: trail building

Last Trail Day of the Season for Flagstaff

Recently we had a chance to volunteer for the last day of trail work with Flagstaff Biking Organization this season.  Flagstaff is cooling off quickly and before long we will have snow.  On this particular Saturday however, it was wonderfully warm and the ground was soft from recent rains.  A perfect day for digging a new bench cut trail to try to finish out a missing link of the Flagstaff Loop Trail.

The segment we were building was just west of the Campbell Mesa area.  Even through we built more trail than expected that day, the loop remains broken and it will take some Forest Service or ACE crews working in the off season to keep the trail work going.  I can’t wait until the Flagstaff Loop Trail is complete!

First Trail Building Day of the Season

Trail building mascot

Saturday was a beautiful day here in Flagstaff and a great one to start off the summer trail building season with Flagstaff Biking Organization.  Saturday’s event included support from the US Forest Service, American Conservation Experience, Absolute Bikes, Run Flagstaff, Fratelli’s Pizza, and Kickstand Kafe.  With all of that community support, it’s no surprise that there was a great turnout.

The crowd on Saturday seemed like a cross section of the active involved folks of Flag.  There were families with kids from age six to sixteen, young men that live for adrenaline and are part of the Gravity Riders group, couples who were enjoying a chance to work side by side, and older adults who showed the rest of us what hard work really looked like.  On their website, FBO encourages people of all ages and ability levels to come out to a work day.  The FBO rep (pictured below) reinforced this message by letting us all know at the beginning that shovel leaning was acceptable.  He said that some people come out every month just to lean on their shovels and chat and that that is perfectly ok.  Trail work days are as much about building the community as they are about building the trails.

I was really impressed how FBO took the lead in organizing the event, but then asked the volunteers who came to step up and form small groups with an experienced trail builder leading each team.  Jay and I each had the opportunity to lead a small team, though as the day carried on and all of the volunteers got familiar with the techniques we all just spread out and worked where we were needed.  With so many volunteers, the line of trail builders stretched out over at least a quarter mile.  In all we probably completed over a half of a mile of brand new trail.

The trail we were building is an important connector segment of the Flagstaff Loop Trail.  Once complete, the Flagstaff Loop Trail will be a 42 mile route that circumnavigates Flagstaff.  It will provide connections and access to many other important trails in the area, including the Arizona Trail, Forest Service singletrack on Mt Elden and Campbell Mesa singletrack.  Where we were working, the trail follows US Forest Service land, but in all it crosses many different boundaries, covering land owned by the City, County, US Forest Service, and even ADOT.  There are great maps showing the proposed trail and how it connects the city.

FBO has planned trail work days every month from now until October and almost every month we will be working on the Flagstaff Loop Trail.  If the attendance at trail days can stay at this level or grow, we should make very significant progress on the trail this year.

The next trail day is scheduled for National Trails Day (June 2nd) and we will be working on the Loop Trail near Ft Tuthill.  The National Trails Day event is sponsored by REI, Absolute Bikes, and Specialized and is sure to be a big and fun event.  I hope to see you out there!

If you want to see all of the photos from Saturday, check out this online album.

Meeting the IMBA Trail Care Crew and Re-Routing Trail in Sedona

Jenny and Jake being interviewed for a local new story

This weekend we had the awesome opportunity to attend a full weekend of events in Sedona presented by the Suburu IMBA Trail Care Crew (TCC), Jake and Jenny.  The Verde Valley Cyclists Coalition brought the TCC to Sedona, where they have a passionate mountain biking community and a lot of gnarly trails.  I have just started riding in Sedona and I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet other local riders and get another perspective on the trails.

The local land manager, Jennifer, addressing the volunteers before we started our trail work

Jake and Jenny presented three workshops, Club Care, Land Manager Training, and Sustainable Trail Building.  IMBA has devoted a lot of time and resources to identifying the best practices in trail design, building for sustainability, and club development.  They train two TCCs who then travel the country spending almost every weekend passing on that knowledge to club leaders and land managers.  As many of our regular readers know, Jay and I are applying to become the next TCC.  Not only did we learn a lot this weekend about Sedona singletrack, we also had the unique opportunity to see a TCC in action.  It was busy and tiring weekend, but we definitely ended the weekend hoping more than ever that we are chosen as the next TCC.

Jenny giving instructions on how we are going to start a new section of trail

On Saturday, after a morning classroom session on designing and building sustainable trails, we actually had a chance to re-route a section of the Slim Shady Trail.  The Slim Shady Trail was built by locals and was not part of a planned system.  The Forest Service, who manages the land, has been evaluating these unauthorized user built trails and deciding where, when, and how they can be incorporated into the trail system.  In this particular case Slim Shady serves as an important connector from the Village of Oak Creek to Sedona and therefore the Forest Service decided to find a way to adopt it.  In order to incorporate this trail, some sections needed to be rerouted because they had the potential to damage cultural sites or protected wildlife.  We had the opportunity to re-route one such section.  With the help of the TCC the new trail was laid out along the contours of the hillside and was designed to have some fun natural challenges to keep it in character with the rest of the trail.

The rock armoring when it was all finished

For the actual trail work we had a large group with several experienced trail builders.  We were able to divide up into small groups and work on small sections of the new trail segment.  I got to work on a lower section where the trail transitioned from large juniper trees with a base of duff to a sandy dip.  As the trail dipped into the sandy drainage we decided to reinforce the low point with rock armoring.  I really enjoyed working on this challenge with the only other female volunteer, Jodi.  Together we found rocks that were the right size and shape, dug out a hole for them and fit them together like a jigsaw puzzle.  This was Jodi’s first time doing trail work and I think she appreciated the chance to see that trail building is a good mix of problem solving and playing in the dirt.

Jodi doing some finishing work

A rare picture of me (in the pink shirt) cutting a dead log to use as a check dam on the old trail segment

After classes on Thursday and Friday and trail building on Saturday, we finally got to actually ride our bikes on Sunday.  I am used to riding alone or with Jay, so this group ride was intimidating at first.  Not to mention it’s Sedona, and as Jenny and Jake pointed out, an intermediate Sedona trail is a black diamond advanced trail most other places.  Luckily, Dave, a local mountain biker and former mountain bike instructor at Whistler, was acting as the sweep and therefore as my personal support system.  Dave was not only patient and encouraging, but he was also a great teacher.  I probably learned more in a two hour ride with Dave than I learned in the past six months biking alone.  Note to self: participate in more group rides and look into classes.

Jay coming out of the last turn on Mescal Trail

Overall the weekend was a huge success.  The TCC visits serve as a catalyst for mountain bike clubs and land management agencies to gather together.  Connections were made and important conversations were started at this TCC visit that will have a lasting impact on Sedona.  We were thrilled to be a part of it.  Thanks Jake and Jenny and IMBA for this opportunity!

The Sunday group ride crew

Jake and Jenny and Jay and I in front of the decked out Suburu

Lost Arrow Trail (Phoenix, AZ) Now Complete

Jay riding Lost Arrow

Since Sharon and I are staying in Phoenix for a little while, I took the time to contact Paul Paonessa, a city of Phoenix park ranger and friend.  I have known Paul for many years; he was my mentor for my Eagle Scout project.  Paul gave me the low down on some trail work happening very nearby in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.  What a fun new trail segment!  Paul is very skilled at trail layout and design so it’s always great to learn more from the master.

Dan riding Lost Arrow

There is a small and dedicated team of volunteers who did the bulk of the work on this segment. I was able to quickly join their ranks and help bust out some trail.  The trail is called Lost Arrow because the original 1970’s master plan called for an archery range in the area, which never happened.

The trail twists and turns a lot, following the contours quite well with only one switch back in the segment. The segment is a little over a mile.  It has a couple wash crossings with one including some rock armoring.  I am looking forward to riding on the new trail again now that some much needed rain has had a chance to soak it.  This should make the trail tread much harder and make for some faster riding.

Repairing Trails in the Largest Municipal Park in the U.S.

South Mountain Park

South Mountain Park, where Jay started his epic mountain bike ride last week, is the largest municipal park in the country.  It has over 50 miles of primary marked trails, and 100 of miles of social trails, many of which shouldn’t be there.  The park is home to natural and cultural treasures with rare flora and fauna and historic petroglyphs.  Surrounded by residents of the city of Phoenix, this park is very heavily used and in desperate need of some TLC.  Last Tuesday and Wednesday we had the pleasure of working with Volunteers for Outdoor Arizona to work on the Pima Wash Trail and Beverly Canyon Trail.

Jay and Sharon standing on new section of the Pima Wash Trail

Jay and Sharon standing on new section of the Pima Wash Trail

Using hand tools like the Macleod shown above, we fixed drainages, rehabilitated social trails, and rerouted a few sections of trail that were not well designed.  Surprisingly enough, water plays a huge role in trail sustainability in the desert.  It might not rain very often, but when it rains it pours and it doesn’t have a lot to slow it down in terms of vegetation so it just runs across the landscape, taking rocks and deadfall with it.  There were a few sections of trail where the path that the water follows and the path that the hikers follow were the same, creating deep ruts and wider trails where people tried to go around the rocks and ruts.  In these sections we worked to find a new path for the line that would be more sustainable.  In the sections that we re-routed we also had to rehabilitate the old trail so that people would know to use the new one and so that the desert could start to reclaim that previous path.

trail work on Pima Wash Trail

Volunteers creating a new more sustainable section of trail

Jay and I really enjoyed working on the reroutes, because you have a lot of room to be creative and you get to see a vast improvement in a short amount of time.

Jay carrying cholla balls to place at the beginning of the old trail to deter people

Our other main work involved using rocks to reinforce drainages.  By digging out a path for the water to go beside a trail and then layering it with rock, we hoped to keep the trails intact.  Rock work is always challenging.  In this section you have lots of great rock to work with, but hiding under almost every rock is a creepy crawly.  You learn to turn over rocks away from you and with great care. I saw more scorpions in two days than I have in at least the last year.  Once you have gathered the rocks it can be fun to build the drainage, because it is a lot like working on a puzzle.

For really large rocks we used a blanket so that we could carry it with two to four people

We really enjoyed working with Mike and the other crew leaders from VOAZ.  They have been doing trail work for many years and have developed some great techniques for building great trails and for working together safely and effectively.  I hope we have the opportunity to work with them again in the future.

petroglyphs in South Mountain Park

petroglyphs in South Mountain Park


Got Trail? Learning from COPMOBA

Fruita desert

North Fruita desert

Five hours after we put the trail tools back in the truck we finally got back from our trail building volunteer project with COPMOBA.  When I was a volunteer manager, I would measure the success of our volunteer leadership team by how late the volunteers hung around afterwards swapping stories and brainstorming new ideas.  After fixing a new trail at 18 Road in Fruita we spent at least 1 hour hanging out in the parking lot and then headed into town to grab pizza and a free beer at the Hot Tomato Cafe (a local restaurant owned by mountain bikers).  This is a very successful club with a lot to teach us.

Bike trailer used to haul trail tools, photo by Giselle Smith

Bike trailer used to haul trail tools, photo by Giselle Smith

For one, this club knows what it is about and they walk their talk.  Sustainable singletrack.  In their mission statement they are specific, they are about building and maintaining sustainable singletrack.  When we got to the parking lot on Saturday they were loading a Bob trailer with trail tools so that we could ride out to the work site.  WOAH, I thought, these guys are hard core and resourceful.  It sent a great message, as we rode our bikes out to the work site we passed recreational riders who saw the trailer hauling tools and knew what we were about.  We got a lot of thank yous during the day and a few questions from riders about how they could get involved.  Awesome!

COPMOBA receives grant from REI for Fruita trails

COPMOBA recently received funding from REI to build an interpretive mountain bike trail in Fruita

The trail we worked on was a new trail they had built with approval from the BLM (who owns the land).  As part of the 18 Road trail system they are building trails with good flow.  IMBA refers to this style as flow country trails which are designed specifically to take mountain bikers on a “singletrack joyride”.  I love this development in trail building because the trails are not prohibitively technical for beginner riders, but are fun for all levels.  We had the opportunity to fix two of the turns which had originally been built with an increasing radius and therefore would force the rider to slow down and turn in too tightly instead of being able to flow from one turn to the next.

COPMOBA Crew working on Down Uppity Trail, Photo By Giselle Smith

COPMOBA Crew working on Down Uppity Trail, Photo By Giselle Smith

The video below shows some of the trails in the 18 Road system:

COPMOBA crew working on the Lower Uppity, photo by Giselle Smith

COPMOBA crew working on the Lower Uppity, photo by Giselle Smith

Being on the trail with COPMOBA, I was reminded of proper trail etiquette.  18 Road is a busy trail system and we encountered a lot of riders.  Depending on how much we had torn up the trail, sometimes riders would need to wait till it was all clear and other times they would need to dismount and walk their bike through the section.  The COPMOBA members instructed riders to actually pick up their bikes so that they wouldn’t leave tire tracks beside the trail.  They also talked about the importance of riders sticking to the center line and not going off trail to pass or for any other reason.  It’s about sustainable singletrack.  They are going to build a trail that can handle a lot of riders, but the environment can only afford it if you can stay on that trail.

Jacob and Jay working on Down Uppity, photo by Giselle Smith

Jacob and Jay working on Down Uppity, photo by Giselle Smith

Grand Junction and Fruita are mountain bike towns.  COPMOBA sees a lot of community support and we were thanked for our time and effort by free stuff from supportive businesses.  Free beer and clothing – what a great way to recognize and retain volunteers!  I hope we can do more with COPMOBA in the future.

Sharon sporting COPMOBA shirt and hat

showing off my new shirt and hat from COPMOBA

Prescott, Arizona – “Raising the Bar” in Trail Building

These 5.5 hours of volunteer work were made possible by Mariel Tewksbury and Nathan Norton.  Thank you for your support!  To find out about how you can help us stay on the road and give back CLICK HERE.

Sharon's bike on Peavine Trail

This past Saturday we had the opportunity to ride in Prescott, Arizona.  I have been to Prescott many times, but I had never ridden my bike there.   The day before we left I asked Jay if he thought there would be any trails suitable for me to ride.  He explained that Prescott is quickly becoming a premiere mountain bike destination and it prides itself on having a trail system that will appeal to riders at all levels.  After discovering this detailed map [PDF] from the City of Prescott, I was excited to check it out.  I ended up riding the Peavine Trail (with one failed side trail attempt) and Jay rode with his father and brother on the very technical Willow Lake trail in the Granite Dells.  I can’t wait to go back with more time to explore all of the beginner and intermediate trails.

the Dells view from Peavine Trail

the view from the Peavine Trail in an area called The Dells

After a little online research, I discovered that the local IMBA club, Prescott Mountain Bike Alliance would be hosting a trail day on the Circle Trail the following day with the Prescott National Forest.  It turns out that PMBA usually gathers a crew once a month and the City of Prescott coordinates a crew called the Over the Hill gang to work on local trails once a week.

As Chris Hosking, the trail specialist for the City of Prescott, says in this video, the trail building work he is doing with the Over the Hill gang is “raising the bar” for how trails can be built and maintained.  I love this.  I love that these older adult volunteers are raising expectations for what a volunteer crew can accomplish.  Also, I love that Chris and the City of Prescott is supporting them and rising to the challenge to build more and better trail systems.

Rob Hehlen teaching about trail building

Rob Hehlen teaching about trail building

When I joined the monthly volunteer crew on Sunday to work on the Circle Trail I was very impressed with the number of hard workers who came out and the skills they brought to the effort.  This work day was hosted by the Prescott National Forest and the Prescott Mountain Bike Alliance.  It was a unique experience because the trail designer, Rob Hehlen, was there and taught us the proper technique for building trail by hand.  He also shared his process for choosing the route that the trail will take, starting with topographical maps in the office and then moving to the field, tromping through the brush to envision a 50 mile trail loop around the City of Prescott.  If you would like to see a presentation he put together about the Circle Trail, click HERE to download the powerpoint.

Sharon at Trail building in Prescott

Feeling a sense of accomplishment after a few hours of serious labor

Trail Building in Northern Virginia

I knew there would be some trail work happening in the area so I made some inquiries on an online forum for the local IMBA club, MORE
This is how I found out about the trails being built on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in the Meadowood recreation area. I had no idea there was even any BLM land in Virginia. I got in contact with Doug Vinson (dvinson at blm.gov) and made plans to come help. Excited about finally getting to do some trail work Sharon and I met up with Doug.

Meadowood Recreation area, new finished trail tread

The above photo is what we saw on the short walk into the work area. Meadowood recreation area recently got an updated plan and as such some work is being done. In a first for the area this new loop trail will be open to bikes.

Ditch Wich SK650 with custom 6 way blade

This little brute, operated by Doug, did most of the work. It’s got a diesel engine and the rubber tracks don’t tear stuff up. The 6 way blade fitted to the front gives great control over setting out slope. It did all of the major bench cutting and other digging, leaving Sharon and me to finish the trail tread by cleaning up the back slope and scattering the fill on the out slope, pruning, and chopping any remaining vegetation out of the tread. David, the other BLM empolyee, used a backpack blower to clear the leaves out ahead of the ditch witch and then went back to blow leaves back onto disturbed areas right up the edge of the tread. This was an efficient way to give a nice finished look. Much better than sprinkling arm loads of duff and leaves by hand.

A good action shot of Doug and Jay finishing tread

With four experienced people, a route already marked with pin flags, and some good equipment, we made excellent progress. A reasonable estimate would be 1000 feet of new trail in the 3 1/2 hours we worked before Sharon and I had to leave for a lunch obligation.

Current map of the Meadowood area at the trailhead.

This new trail is relatively short and very beginner friendly. It may not seem like much but with any luck it will be the start of a whole new trail system open to bikes. This is how it starts.

National Trails Day 2011: North Country Trail, Allegheny National Forest

North Country Trail signMy hands are still sore as I am typing this, and we put down our tools more than 36 hours ago.  Saturday was National Trails Day.  For us, it meant an easy chance to get involved in trail building and to camp out with other volunteers in the Allegheny National Forest in northern Pennsylvania.

We found out about the opportunity through the nationwide listing on American Hiking Society’s site.  Using the directions on the project description, we made our way to the Amsler Springs Shelter just as it was getting dark on Friday night.  There were already several people there and we were greeted by two dogs, barking at us with a mix of excitement and watchfulness.  Keith, who we found out later was the Allegheny National Forest Chapter President, called off his dog, Bear and welcomed us to the site.  The guys, Keith, Burt, and Jeff, were talking shop about the North Country Trail.

amsler springs shelter sign

Amsler Springs Shelter sign

Annual service events such as National Trails Day are a great opportunity to bring people together and build a sense of community around the work that goes on all year long.  The group that built trail on Saturday included dedicated trail workers such as Kay, Tom, and Patty, as well as people who are new to this group, like us and Jode.  In addition, college students spending their summer on a Student Conservation Association crew joined us.  As we worked side by side slinging pulaskis and McLeods, we shared stories about our favorite hikes.  Jode was preparing to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (over 2,000 miles!).  He was getting advice from a thru-hiking alum, Burt.  Meanwhile his stories about preparing for the trip were inspiring the rest of us to think big about our future adventures.  We listened and laughed as we slowly chopped away at the hillside.  Unfortunately we had to hurry off the trail early when an afternoon thunder and lightning storm blew in.  An early exit just turned into an earlier dinner at Cougar Bob’s, the favorite (and only) restaurant nearby.

allegheny national forest campsite

I haven’t thought a lot about my graduate course work since leaving on this trip, but sitting around the campfire after the trail building and sharing tips, stories, and laughs reminded me about what Mark had to say about how knowledge is shared.  I don’t think anybody actually enjoys 5 hours of back breaking trail construction.  The tools are heavy, the motions are repetitive, the work is slow.  But the camaraderie is outstanding and it can only be created through working hard together and then celebrating and relaxing afterwards.

Jay and Sharon at Niagara Falls

Wearing our National Trails Day shirts at Niagara Falls on Sunday -- see Burt and Keith, we did make it across the border!