Ask a Trail Builder

It’s not exactly rocket science, not even close, but there are some things I take for granted while curious outsiders might have serious questions on why and how trails are built and maintained. I assume other builders are in the same boat, or maybe shoes is a better idiom to roll with. I also assume the number of people that have questions or even care enough to not be satisfied with their own hypotheses is very small. Nonetheless, questions do come and sometimes they come from reporters doing stories on trail building. This is a long way of saying I got asked some questions again, this time for a piece in the Washington Post: On your next hike, spare a thought for the trail builders who made it possible.

I have no idea how many trail users “spare a thought” for the process, but it would be no surprise if it doesn’t cross some minds as people use trails. What’s interesting to me is that the amount of questions and the roads I have been down with three reporters now are wide in breadth and sometimes depth. Some of the questions were unique to the reporter’s story or angle, and of course some were similar. One other similarity is that when it comes time to print a whole lot is never mentioned. This is OK as I know space is limited, and story angels shift or limit the topic for the sake of coherence. Part of me wishes I had asked for the transcripts of our conversations as well as those from other builders interviewed, then they could be posted somewhere, but then the mystique and mystery is gone…for those who actually spare or care enough to find out more.

I feel like I am now marked as some trail builder guy to seek out for answers, which is OK, but I think it is mainly because of where it started. A New York Times article is how Backpacker found me, and the the Washington Post. Time will tell what publication is next, if any– I do wish Dirt Rag were still around. There are so many trail stories being told all over the world in and beyond news outlets. The stories vary like the number of trails, and to riff on another idiom, there is no destination really, it is a journey and one that will continue and repeat itself into the future as new people discover trails and care enough to spare a thought to ask who, how, and why.

Oddly enough, IMBA started its own video series to answer some questions trail users (and builders) might have about trails in there own way: Ask A Trail Builder. Of course ask 10 trail builders how or why xyz is done and in some instances you might get get 10 different approaches or answers/solutions for the trail situation in question, some with overlap.

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