Saturday, May 23, 2015

It takes a village to build a trail

Posted By on Sat, May 23, 2015 at 7:15 AM

click to enlarge GEORGE LEE
  • George Lee
After hiking a couple thousand miles over the last several years, I’ve started paying more — and closer — attention to what goes into constructing trails. After a little time spent looking at the trails and chatting with the people who work on them, I started seeing that there was more to a trail than a gap in the trees or grass.

Anyone, with a little supervision, can clean up a trail and fix some minor problems — rake a little dirt here, fill in a hole there, and move on to the next trouble spot. But there’s actually a method, a science, even, to trail construction. Knowing where to rake the dirt or which hole to fill, and leading people in getting it done, requires training.

“Crew leader training,” driven by Colorado Springs' Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department in conjunction with the Trails and Open Space Coalition and the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, sounds like a course to develop leadership skills, but it’s much more than that. A crew leader, as defined, trained and certified by the parks department and its partners, is someone who understands the basics of trail construction, can plan a route, build a trail, and lead people doing the work.

I sat down for my first day of crew-leader class this April and was among a large group of outdoors enthusiasts who all had one goal in mind: To learn how to improve and build upon the hundreds of miles of trails in the Pikes Peak region. There were people from El Paso County and from friends groups from all over the area.

Our instructors on that first night brought years of experience in leading people and doing trail work. They guided us in how to emphasize safety and having fun while toiling on a trail, and the basics of trail construction principles and techniques. And as they did, and the students recognized some of these principles from their own hiking and cycling experiences, I was able to see those aha moments. I had a few of those moments myself.

Over the following weekends, we gathered with trainers from RMFI and Friends of the Peak and other groups as they taught us how to restore a poorly constructed trail or social trail back to its original, natural state, and how to improve a trail so that it didn’t flood or erode. Students worked with people they hadn’t met before, or maybe only knew by name or reputation, and will continue through the summer with “mentoring days” spent working on actual projects. (Since my own group, the Friends of Cheyenne Cañon, was just starting the Mount Muscoco trail project, I was able to complete my training in short order.) And they’ll do it while working with volunteers from all over the region who belong to many different organizations.

As new crew leaders complete their certification, their names go onto a list at the parks department, and when a group needs volunteer crew leaders and trail workers, the call goes out. When volunteers arrive on the appointed day, they may not know each other, or may be on a trail they’ve never been on, but they come together to get the work done. They pool their resources, tools, knowledge and experience, and work together to build something that the entire community benefits from. Like a village.

Happy trails!

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor and business owner who has lived in Colorado Springs for over 23 years. He is the president of the Friends of Cheyenne Canon and a member of the El Paso County Parks Advisory Board. You can follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), or visit his website ( E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob:

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