I consider trail building an art. I have spent eight seasons constructing trails all over the country, and I have had the pleasure of working with amazing artists and builders. The amount of dedication and work that goes into planning, designing, and construction of these trails is sometimes unfathomable, and involves many aspects that most people probably don’t think about. Each trail represents the result of countless hours in an office, propositions, donations, and people of all different backgrounds and caliber coming together for the same cause: to protect a mountain by building a sustainable trail. My role in this process is to execute the idea as a trail builder, technical advisor and project manager, a position that I take much pride in and have spent years working towards.
Building a good trail that will last and is beautiful is not an easy task. I feel sometimes that it is a dying trade, as it is becoming rarer to find good professional trail crews. Organizations such as CFI and the forest service are moving in a new direction by putting their energy and resources towards conservation corps and volunteers. This provides us with more bodies to help complete projects, but still leaves us lacking the technical skills necessary to execute quality work. Volunteers and conservation corps are very important for conducting building sustainable trails; this cannot be done without professionally-trained trail builders.
As with any profession, trail work is not for everyone. It is backbreaking work that is often tedious and frustrating. However, the feeling of accomplishment it awards is triumphant. I strongly encourage anyone who is thinking about pursing a job in trail construction to give it a go, but with a humble approach. These skills take time to grasp. Ask many questions and observe. I would also highly recommend that you read a book called Lightly on the Land as a resource on trail construction. It breaks down proper techniques for building trail, and I refer to it often.
Now go out there and educate yourself on the trails you hike on. If you find yourself participating in a trail project, put some extra care into building something strong and beautiful, and remember it can be an art.