“Why do you do trail work?” I get that question a lot from my female friends. They see me coming off projects looking dirty, sweaty and tired. And occasionally, with a crushed fingernail and plenty of mosquito bites.
What they can’t see are the many friendships I’ve built with people who share my love of land stewardship. What they can’t see is the intense sense of accomplishment I feel. They can’t feel the pride I feel. Pride that fills my soul, not only on that day but every day that I ride on that trail. The trail that I built with my own hands. The trail that, because I’ve built it to be sustainable, might outlive me. It’s an incredible rush and I’m rather addicted.
The numbers of women who go on trail building projects are small compared to the number of men, but thankfully, our numbers are growing. Trail building and design is not an arena for men only. Those who ride, run and hike on trails already have the foundation. You know, when you are riding, what a good trail feels like. You fell how it follows the natural contours of the land and you just flow along with it, connected to it, flowing through beautiful singletrack. And you can see when a trail is a bad one… eroded trails with water ruts, exposed roots and puddles. Trails that were once singletrack that have become braided and widened. If you have ever ridden on some sweet singletrack and can recognize it, with a little practice, you can build it too.
Some of my friends worry that they are not strong enough to work a project. They see the pictures of burly boys with tools smacking on rocks and hauling boulders. But I assure you, with the right tools and gravity, anyone can build sustainable trail. I’m barely 5’4”, but put a pickaxe in my hand and I’m a giant! And even if heavy lifting and smacking aren’t for you, there are generally other less physical tasks that must be accomplished. In more densely forested areas there is no replacement for a good set of pruning sheers, an axe or a small hand saw.
I highly encourage all trail users to engage in trail building and maintenance days in your area. Trails are not static. Even when built sustainably they need a little TLC. Trail building and maintenance projects happen everywhere. Giving back one day a year is the best way to ensure that we will always have access to nature. And the rewards are boundless!
Here’s a quick guide on how to get started:
- Look for organized groups in your area who do what you like to do. For example, if you are a mountain biker rider in Boulder, CO, like me, you have the Boulder Mountainbike Alliance. But if you live in other areas, you can go to the IMBA website to look for affiliated groups.
- SIGN UP and SHOW UP.
- You may need to contact the project sponsor for directions and a list of what to bring (though they should email it to you when your registration is confirmed).
- Stock up on the basics – comfy work gloves (padded leather if possible), work boots, sturdy pants (Carhartt’s are great for this).
- Bring a friend!
Tips on what to bring:
- Boots – not shoes, especially not sandals. Boots protect you and keep dirt out of your socks.
- Bug juice – if in mosquito-prone area.
- Camera – to record the fun!
- Clothing layers – be prepared for all kinds of weather.
- Eye protection.
- Gloves – good leather work gloves.
- Pants – not shorts. Pants protect you from all manner of shin injuries.
- Water – 1 liter for half-day, 2 liters for whole day.
See you on the trail! All your local trail users will thank you for it!