Trail building history is of course still being made. But how were they made in the past and who built them? Some answers are linked below.
Paths worn into being are as old as the dawn of animals and humans themselves, but trails as we know them today are a recreational thing of the recent past, around 1900. Or much older depending on where we draw the line between Way, Trail, Path, and Road.
What is a Trail? When does a narrow trafficked “way” stop being a trail and become a path, or road? The answers could change the start date of “trail” history.
Native American trails, traces, and roads:
Early American Trails
The Forest Service began building trails in the 1890s, when the national forests were first set aside as forest reserves. Those trails were not scenic walks, but designed as the quickest way between two points and built primarily for communication and fire fighting activities. Random trails created by the consistent use of visitors to access scenic areas were not of much concern to the early Forest Service. A 1915 Forest Service publication, Trail Construction on the National Forests, discerns the two types of trails:
“Mere ways through the forest, whether marked or not, are not regarded as trails; they are matters of woodcraft rather than of permanent forest improvement. A trail is a narrow highway over which a pack animal can travel with safety during the usual period when the need for a highway exists.”1
In the days before telephones and radio, Forest Service trails were the means of communication between remote stations. Travel and communication was done (continue)
- NPS: Creation Of Trails
- NPS: Trail Management & Maintenance
- Forest History Society: Early Trails in the Forests
- American Trails: History of the National Trails System
- A History of Hiking
- Trail-Marker Trees
- Forest History Society: Trails of the Past: Historical Overview of the Flathead National Forest, Montana, 1800-1960
- Forest History Society: The History of Horse Trails
- Pedestrianism, 1870
- New Hampshire, 1879
- Bike paths/side paths, 1897
- Aspen, 1910
- NYNJTC, 1920
- The Great Depression Era, CCC, 1933-1942
- Pennsylvania 1927
- Western Trailbuilders Association, 1976 (PTBA 2004)