This past weekend I had the pleasure of providing a Trail Building School to my local club, the Tri Cities Off Road Cycling Association (TORCA). More often than not, when working with clubs in Canada, I'm not often a local trail user to begin with, so It was nice to have some more local knowledge and context of what the club was looking to accomplish and how the trail project fit within the overall vision of the trail network.

    We had all the ingredients for a successful workshop: 12 eager volunteers and open minds ready to learn (indeed, learning goes both ways) and discuss trailbuilding. Some volunteers came with more than 20 years experience in the woods, while others were just beginning to get involved.

    What occurred to me during the build part of the workshop was how much our vision of the trail had changed from the way we conceived it to what we discovered once we started digging in the dirt. Steve Sheldon, Reno Koeleman and I went out into the woods before the workshop to discuss the trail project and design the section of trail that we would build. What I had thought would be a fairly straightforward benchut trail build with the occasional raised tread section ended up turning into an almost fully raised tread trail, requiring what must have been at least a thousand pounds of rock armouring and rock retaining wall, the majority of which went to supporting an old tree stump that is now part of the tread surface.

    We talk a lot about the guidelines of trailbuilding. We've got the five essential elements of sustainable trail and the steps to building benchut or raised tread. But these guides don't really provide you the kind of insight you need when you realize your trail traverses over a metre of organics or climbs up over a hidden stump that needs to be removed.

   What really should be guideline number one is this: never stop questioning the landscape you're working in or the design you've chosen for a given project. Strict adherence to the original plan when you've encountered a major roadblock or new information will either burn out volunteers, result in an unsuccessful trail, or both. A beginner mindset is your friend. This couldn't have been more evident at the beginning of the project, when I attempted to dig a short “demo” of benchcut trail at the beginning. There was so much organic material that to excavate out the entire tread as a bench would have taken out a good chunk of the hillside. Instead we adapted; excavating out the organic material and raising the tread surface up with the plentiful rocks nearby.

    Good trails follow a plan. The best trails follow a plan that changes when new information about the terrain or the environment comes to light. Strict adherence to formula and standard will only go so far, the rest lies in the creativity of the builder.

    Thanks to TORCA, especially Sheldon and Reno, for hosting me last weekend. For more images for the workshop over the weekend, click here.