A Study in Trail Anatomy

Thanks for letting me blog about the dirt on dirt here.


A little bit about me: I learned to mountain bike in Florida (stop laughing now) and North Carolina about 20 years ago, then 15ish years ago I moved myself and my mountain bike out to California. Since then, I’ve picked up a riding partner (my husband) and am learning to ride uphill. When I’m not mountain biking, I’m working, building LEGO sculptures or watching American football.


This year, my husband and I decided to do trail work on our favorite trail system, Wilder State Park in Santa Cruz with Trailworkers (http://www.trailworkers.com).  We’ve done some trail work before, but this was cool because we learned more about the structures involved for creating a good trail with proper drainage.


The tools:

-       Pulaski: a firefighting axe

-       McLeod: a firefighting rake/hoe

-       A shovel: self-explanatory

-       A wheelbarrow: to carry the tools and/or tired trail workers


The trail drainage maintenance was on a portion of the Old Cabin Trail that starts at the Wilder Ridge Loop Trail, a nice rolling section of singletrack through the meadow.  When we rode it a few weeks prior, you could feel how the trail has some built-in “rollers” that you could almost pump downhill and are very gradual going up.


This is much better than the “old skool” water bars, not because anyone can’t ride over them, but because the water wouldn’t necessarily flow over it, but run into it. Some trails locally are now basically adjoining “U” shaped dips thanks to the erosion, improper placement, and lack of trail maintenance over time. While they sound like fun to launch, they don’t have a great landing zone. So even for riding, these aren’t ideal.



This December weekend, we learned from one of the California state park system’s trail builders on how to build and maintain drainage on a trail running downhill through the meadow on the Twin Oaks trail.


The trail is not very technical, but the drainage is particularly important in the meadow area as the rains in the Santa Cruz area can be quite intense.


Photo courtesy of Chuck Wisse of Trailworkers

The way we built the trail involves creating a drainage area, giving the water an area to go. The remainder of the water, as it continues to flow down trail, slows down as it continues down the trail.


The area after the drain is a gently sloped mound, which is armored. The armoring is rocks underneath the dirt that keeps the mound from eroding away. The mound is created with dirt and organics that were removed from the drain area. Everything about this type of trail building is resourcefulness—you want to reuse as much material as possible.



While the technical part of the work was interesting, the other nice thing about doing the trail work was the appreciation you take in walking a trail. A trail that takes only a few minutes to bike up may require a significant more time walking (and using different muscles that hate you when you’re done).


The other thing that’s nice is when you’re building a trail is determining how to ride it. Even though we are making sustainable trails, you still want the fun part. So when we were maintaining our drains, you wanted to remove the high points at certain places and keep the flow going on the trail.


But what’s even better: getting the “Thank Yous” as both cyclists and hikers pass. And hopefully next time, they’ll join you.


Until next time, the rubber side down.

-Anne Henmi

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