By JERRY HITCHCOCK
Spend some time on any trail in North Idaho, and you’re bound to ask this question sooner or later: Who maintains this for the public to enjoy?
The answer more often than not is volunteers, who give their time, sweat and blood to make sure that others can enjoy our wondrous region with either a quick jaunt down a path, or a day-long trek utilizing one of our trail systems.
I had the chance to spend a day recently helping one volunteer group work on a trail at Farragut State Park. Although I was severely lacking in the experience department, those others in my group easily made up for my shortcomings. And truth be told, much of trail design and maintenance is common sense, with only a few simple rules to follow.
The group, consisting of Rusty Baillie of Dalton Gardens, John Bowman, Mountain View Cyclery owner, and Shane Myr, Two Wheeler Dealer general manager, had singled out a section of the Shoreline Trail in Farragut to upgrade.
Baillie had done some advance work, getting with the Forest Service and State Park officials to down some trees, which would be used to shore up the Shoreline Trail… sorry, I couldn’t resist.
The group gathered at the parking lot on the west end of the trail, and we all collected tools out of our vehicles and descended to where we’d be working. Once we got there, Baillie pointed out the areas of the trail which had eroded due to either human traffic or natural erosion. Our task was to haul the pre-cut timbers over to these areas and place them at the base of the trail tread, after we built up the area between the sloping trail as a bed for the log to rest on. To do this, we searched the shore for flat rocks, which we fitted and stacked with all the skill of a journeyman mason.
Once we had the first area built up, we marched over to the first log, where Baillie had heavy ropes and 4-foot-long wooden skewers we used to lift the cargo and trudge back up the trail. By using the ropes and skewers, the load is manageable, but the sloping trail proved to be hard to navigate — one man on the top edge of the trail and one below, both fighting with the vegetation to bring the log into position.
Since Baillie had measured and pre-cut the logs to the correct length, placement was a breeze. Once we had the log set, we started to backfill with dirt and small rocks to rebuild the tread to the proper slope, which needs to gently angle toward the water for drainage. Water was applied with buckets and some foot tamping set the tread, and it was ready for business.
Next we repeated the process further up the trail a couple times and did some basic trail maintenance in the area to make it user-friendly.
During the process, Baillie gave an update on why volunteers are needed to maintain our routes in the region.
“Idaho Parks went self-supporting a few years ago so they have to pay their way…which makes them tend to count their pennies,” he said. “We are a group of very dedicated folks for whom digging dirt has become a lifestyle, a physical challenge, a way forward and an art form.”
Baillie said a trained trail worker can add extra touches like an artist paints a picture or carves a sculpture. “And we liked the way it looked when we were done.
“This (work) is way beyond dollars and cents. If you costed out our financial gain for time spent, it would come out to small fractions of a penny per hour.”
Bowman also volunteers and heads a crew which designs and builds the Empire Trail system on the west side of Spirit Lake. Myr has been designing and maintaining North Idaho area trails for nearly a decade.
“There has to be an aesthetic and ethical component (to trail design and maintenance),” Baillie said. “Also these are pivotal times for our civilization. Our economy and society is teetering…our cities are in chaos and we are desperately trying to build a new political system. Our culture seems to be driven predominantly by selfish, short-term motivations.
“Maybe us trail builders are smart and sensitive enough to realize that our best hope for a viable future and a happy life is to get back to helping our fellow beings, our environment and our nation!”
If you’d like to get involved in helping maintain our area trails, contact the Idaho Panhandle Mountain Bike Alliance via their Facebook page, or on Twitter (@panhandlemba), or get in touch with a local bike shop.
Working on trails is a great way to enjoy nature and get a nice workout at the same time. Plus you’ll sleep better knowing you did your part as a giver, and not just a taker.
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Jerry Hitchcock can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2017, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at HitchTheWriter.