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Ode to Switchback

When it comes to switchbacks, our mantra has always been ‘avoid them at all costs, grasshopper.’ They require work, more than we usually have time or resources for, during an average Trail Care Crew field project. In terms of resources, you must be blessed with large, heavy rocks, as well as trail gnomes who are savvy, hardworking and have the proper tools. We shouldn’t have to say it, but we don’t travel with rock bars. They would really throw off the suspension on our Subaru Outback.

When we were planning our visit with FC NEMBA, a new club in Fairfield County, CT, our first reaction to their proposed switchback project idea was well, let’s see. Enthusiasm was not in the air, but rather, doubt mixed with a pinch of fear. Switchbacks take a significant effort, and we always tell clubs that if you can get away with never building one in your entire life, you're lucky.

But after meeting the club leadership and talking through the project, we decided to give it a go – these guys know what they’re doing, and we could really help them build better relationships with the local land managers and motivate their volunteers with a stellar example of trail building and positive change in the community. FC NEMBA pulled out all the stops for our switchback project. Together we put in about 75 hours of labor (including about 10 hours of planning) to build a switchback with a three-foot retaining wall. A solid group moved almost a dozen 600 pound rocks, and did it all with a smile. Not only that, but we also built 200 feet of bench-cut trail leading into and out of the switchback, and revegetated a 600 square foot fall-line, rutted trail. FC NEMBA knew what they were getting into and threw their heads down to complete a switchback worthy of dedication in this blog post.

The result: we removed a dangerous, un-fun and terribly eroded trail that was becoming a scar on the landscape and more of a liability than an enjoyable piece of singletrack; and replaced it with a fun, challenging and sustainable trail. We’re glad we went ahead with the switchback. It’s a beaut!

It’s also in one of the first trails you see as a visitor to Trout Brook Preserve, one of the Aspetuck Land Trust’s flagship properties. The new trail showcases the benefits of sustainable singletrack while giving visitors an opportunity to enjoy a new trail that fits into the natural environment and highlights some of the park’s beautiful flora and fauna.

Keep up the good work FC NEMBA. We’re grateful that all of you were there to help us execute a stellar switchback project.

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