trail Art

Trail science vs. trail art, or science with art, or art with science, or the art of science, or the science of art. No matter how you arrange it, trail building is shaping, carving, and building, maybe drawing…or going back to the drawing board. Sculpting.

Trails are partly science, partly art, a synergy of objective and subjective evaluations made by the designer/s and builder/s. The joint art and science venture results in some end product that can vary tremendously from one builder to another. Beyond governmental or engineering requirements, to further complicate matters, design often involves psychology. User group dynamics and behaviors require tying traffic management and efficiency together to make the trail “flow” or unfold. In addition to a certain degree of flow, another goal is to artfully marry the tread to the landscape.

measure twice art once

While beauty and art can be “in the eye of the beholder,” there is bad art, and/or bad science, even bad trail marriages of the two. Tying art and science to designs and builds that last and speak to the users’ needs is a craft that takes time to develop.

My personal art story: Creating art has been a part of my life since elementary school. My first and last college art professor and high school teachers were a little dismayed that I decided to peruse science over art. That’s just how I felt at 20 years old. I think my parents were relieved. At that turning point art became a side-project rather than something to pay bills (no offense to artists dedicated or bold enough to walk that path). Agronomy was my calling for a little over a decade.

The portfolio page has links to before and after reports displaying the art of trail building. Otherwise the “art” of trails and other spectacles can be seen throughout this site, or better yet at a trail near you.

Some of my art by hand and computer is at Flickr, and some is on tees etc.

Art Styles, Schools, and Movements


The style could be the techniques and maybe aesthetic outcome of the builder and designer. These vary from place to place and make or change the movement or school.

The  style tendencies of trail building schools usually adapt to vary with the users listed under “movements.”

trail styles and art

The “Art” section of trailism will try to address the artistic dimension of trail building “sustainability.”

trail art wall


Trail Schools like Schools of Art are perhaps best divided into where a group of builders use a similar style or vision, which is related to the movement they are in.

trail art fowy mtb style


This is a large part of what trail building is or how it gets done. The techniques could be fine tuned hand products, or products first shaped by machines then hands.

trail art tools Appalachian Trail


Maybe this is mostly related to who trail builders move and the era in which they tried to move them:

  • Hikers
  • Runners
  • Bikers
  • Wheel chairs
  • Motos
  • Equestrians
  • Watercraft

I can’t necessarily break down the movements at this time, maybe they don’t exist as much as schools do. Trail building has changed and will continue to change over time. A common philosophical thread is usually sustainability. However, there is an exception I can think of, fall line trails that are or become all rock scrambles, and places like this: windrock bike park

Some builders practice more than one art movement, some stick to just one or two. The movements have evolved.

hiking scramble

A line made by walking

In 1967 A Line Made by Walking was photographed. It was a “sculpture” done by the British artist Richard Long in Wiltshire. He simply walked back and forth until a visible line was formed in the grass. Sometimes trail building is just that. Other times, or most of the time, trails are woven into or through the landscape considering how the users walking, running, or riding that line may change it.

Trail building is performance art. The original sculpture is fleeting, impermanent. Lines are made with machines or hand tools, then made again and again over time by those passing through.

Trail Art

Trail building is a performance art with Styles, Schools, and maybe Movements. Is trail building Land Art or Earthworks? What all the schools or movements have in common is that the installations are temporary. The weather, local biota, and the public reshape the sculptures through time.

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