Sus­tain­able Trail Con­struc­tion

Once you begin to learn about trail con­struc­tion meth­ods, you may not be able to look at a trail the same again.

Mountain Bike for Her - - Contents - Words By Sarah Gal­braith

Trail work is not my favourite, I’ll ad­mit. It’s gru­elling. Tir­ing. There are bit­ing bugs. But I of­ten think of some­thing I heard Glenn Plake say in a ski movie: “You can’t evolve with­out be­ing in­volved.” My adopted mantra works on many lev­els. Rid­ers own the re­spon­si­bil­ity of shap­ing their rid­ing scene. By show­ing up to trail work days, public meet­ings, events, and fundrais­ers, we build to­gether a vi­brant moun­tain bike com­mu­nity com­plete with trails we all love to ride. Of course, more sup­port and in­volve­ment means more trails. As for my per­sonal evo­lu­tion, it wasn’t un­til I be­came more in­volved that I could ap­pre­ci­ate what it took to de­liver the trails I love to ride. That rock is strate­gic. That berm is en­gi­neered to serve a pur­pose. Those fun lit­tle de­scents in the mid­dle of gru­elling climbs weren’t by chance. Our en­joy­ment is part of trail de­sign for sure, but there’s far more to it than that. You may not put much thought to how your favourite sin­gle­track came to be. But there are many fac­tors con­tribut­ing to how and where it rides, like ter­rain, soil type, drainage, landowner agree­ments, and even his­tory. Once you begin to learn about trail con­struc­tion meth­ods, you may not be able to look at a trail the same again. The name of the game for trail con­struc­tion and main­te­nance is sus­tain­abil­ity. This has two mean­ings: min­i­miz­ing the im­pact of the trail and its users to the sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment, and build­ing trails that last. The sus­tain­able con­struc­tion stan­dards set forth by the In­ter­na­tional Moun­tain Bi­cy­cling As­so­ci­a­tion and out­lined in the book, “Trail So­lu­tions: A Guide to Build­ing Sweet Sin­gle­track” pro­vide much guid­ance to trail builders around the world. Site se­lec­tion is a crit­i­cal first step in plan­ning for the en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity of a trail. “Not ev­ery place is good for a trail,” says Mariah Keagy, Ver­mont-based trail builder and ed­u­ca­tor. Moun­tain bike trails should avoid wet ar­eas, sen­si­tive species and habi­tat, and im­por­tant his­tor­i­cal sites. Min­i­miz­ing ero­sion is the key to sus­tain­ing trails over time. Wa­ter is a ma­jor cul­prit, but this can be mit­i­gated by in­clud­ing fea­tures that

pre­vent wa­ter from col­lect­ing on the trail and that re­duce ero­sion from run-off. “Ev­ery trail is a stream un­less you get the wa­ter off of it,” says Keagy. Trail fea­tures like grade re­ver­sals and French drains, plus con­struc­tion tech­niques that in­clude rolling ter­rain, bench-cut­ting and slop­ing the trails down­ward to the outer edge all help to shed wa­ter safely. Min­i­miz­ing grade on moun­tain bike trails also re­duces ero­sion from soil be­ing dis­placed by wa­ter and tire treads. IMBA’s Half Rule states that a trail’s grade shouldn’t ex­ceed half the grade of the hill­side. The Ten Per­cent Av­er­age Guide­line and Max­i­mum Sus­tain­able Trail Grade set more stan­dards for trail builders. Max­i­mum grade can be a site-spe­cific de­ter­mi­na­tion that con­sid­ers soil type, the pres­ence of solid rock, an­nual rain­fall amount, num­ber and type of trail users and more.

Moun­tain bik­ing is a rel­a­tively new sport, grow­ing popular only in the 80’s and 90’s, and so benefits from mod­ern stan­dards for sus­tain­able con­struc­tion and main­te­nance. Recre­ation Co­or­di­na­tor Jes­sica Sav­age, with the Ver­mont Depart­ment of Forests, Parks and Recre­ation, says, “When we build new trail, we build to the high­est level of sus­tain­abil­ity.” But why should any­one care about all of this? Jill Van Win­kle, Trail Spe­cial­ist with IMBA, ex­plains: “The two most im­por­tant rea­sons are user ex­pe­ri­ence and min­i­miz­ing im­pacts to the en­vi­ron­ment. Good trail guide­lines pro­vide land man­agers, builders, and trail users with the tools to cre­ate sus­tain­able trails that pro­vide ex­pe­ri­ences that meet user ex­pec­ta­tions.” As for rid­ers, Van Win­kle points out that un­der­stand­ing the process helps moun­tain bik­ers to be bet­ter trail users. “We are more likely to show up for vol­un­teer work days, pro­vide feed­back to land man­agers, and be more aware

of how our rid­ing might af­fect the trails, like by avoid­ing rid­ing in muddy con­di­tions or by avoid­ing skid­ding.” A com­mon theme when talk­ing to trail spe­cial­ists and land man­agers is that they wish trail users knew more about the process, even be­fore shov­els hit dirt, and Van Win­kle points to all the plan­ning, meet­ings, reg­u­la­tory hoops, stake­holder in­volve­ment, and more that goes on be­fore trail con­struc­tion be­gins. “Know­ing what steps are re­quired, the time pe­ri­ods man­dated for each step, and when and how the public can be in­volved is re­ally im­por­tant, and know­ing how much work it is to con­struct and main­tain trails that see heavy use.” Sav­age adds, “Peo­ple think it’s no big deal to build trails. You just cut down some trees. But we’re plan­ning, designing, do­ing it right. A lot more goes into trail build­ing than peo­ple re­al­ize.”

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