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Choosing a trail building project

Depending on your area, the type of project can vary. Just remember that the focus of the Trail Crew visit is education, not the construction of as much trail as possible. The Crew strives to leave you with a section of sustainable trail built "by the book" that can serve as a model for future projects. New trail or a reroute is required; trail maintenance will not provide the right learning experience for this course.

This course does not cover construction of wooden features such as boardwalks, skinnies or bridges.

Different land management agencies have unique rules about trail construction and maintenance. It is important to start talking to them early in the process to ensure that you jump through all of the hoops necessary to gain approval.  If trail work is not approved, the work day will have to be cancelled.

The Crew will need to assess the trail on Thursday or Friday, prior to any field session. They will flag the section of trail chosen for the Trail Building School at that time; if it is already flagged, they will still need to walk it. 

Important logistics to consider - please read this carefully:

  • Easy access to the work site for vehicles, people and tools. Please ensure the morning classroom location is no more than 30 minutes from the worksite and that the parking lot to the actual site of trail construction is no more than a half-mile walk.
  • Try to plan an achievable project based on the number of attendants who register and their trail building experience. Generally, 500-800 feet of new trail is a reasonable goal. It takes at least 30-40 people to build 1,000 feet of trail, which is about the longest acceptable project. 

Assess the number and type of tools you need and determine if this matches the proposed project and number of attendants. Please do not plan on using mechanized trail-building equipment, as this is beyond the Crew's experience level and can endanger volunteers.

You'll want to narrow down the project to the single best option for training your volunteers and providing a thorough educational experience. During the short weekend time available, the Crew will not be able to assess several projects to help you choose.

When selecting a work site(s) for the Crew visit, keep this in mind: It is ideal when the topics covered in the classroom session can be reinforced in the field. Topics that will be covered in the morning and are applicable to the afternoon session include:

  • Layout of a sustainable trail and how to use a clinometer
  • The Half Rule
  • The 10% Rule
  • Building a full-bench-cut trail
  • Incorporating grade reversals
  • Installing rolling grade dips
  • Installing knicks

Other topics that the Crew will cover, but may or may not be something that can be covered in the field depending on potential sites:

  • Laying out and constructing a climbing turn, rolling crown switchback or switchberm
  • Armoring for sustainability
  • Crib walls and retaining walls
  • Reclaiming and rerouting an eroding trail

For more on trail building and additional planning resources, visit the trail building section of