Let us now acknowledge trail builders, of this generation, generations past and generations to come. Not all hikers appreciate the trail at their feet—but to my way of thinking, they should. Trails are a thing of beauty and a joy to behold, especially considering the time, effort, expense and, increasingly, the mastery of bureaucracy required to build one these days.

The trail-builder’s art—and it is an art as well as a science—is vastly under-appreciated, even by seasoned hikers.

Check out my video, excerpted from the pilot of “Hike On” a TV series about hiking The Trailmaster is developing for California public television:  The Art of Trail Building

Trail builders themselves, most volunteer, some professional, are very special, dedicated people. I’ve watched trail-builder Ron Webster practice his craft all over the mountains of Southern California for decades, and come to admire what he does, and the kind of dedication required, and the kind of person he is for making trail work a major part of his life’s work.

Master Trail Builder Ron Webster and his youthful trail crews worked on the Backbone and many other trails in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Master Trail Builder Ron Webster and his youthful trail crews worked on the Backbone and many other trails in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Webster brings solid contractual and people skills to the job, including the ability to do cost-breakdowns and construction estimates for trails, and to manage crews from a diversity of backgrounds. He’s good at working with trail crews composed of at-risk youth, at teaching young men and women to be part of a team, to take pride in their work and to master

I particularly admire how the master trail builder designs the route for a trail. After spending many, many hours on the slopes to be crossed by a new trail, Webster goes into what he calls “Alignment” in which he envisions the trail upon the mountain. It’s a combination of a Zen state and a construction blueprint.

Some modern day trail builders have a philosophic approach as they plan and construct the way. “A trail route is not a route from here to there. It is a place to reconnect,” states Robert Searns, founding owner of Urban Edges, Inc., a planning and development firm based in Denver, Colorado.

“In building trails, we need to think about the trail experience,” Searns explains. “What does the trail look like? What does it smell like, taste and sound like? Does the experience challenge the mind? Does it touch a chord that resonates the soul? A good trail will do that.”

I love a hand-built trail, one that goes easy on the land, one that seems almost as much a part of the geography as a streambed. A good trail is like a good guide, subtly pointing things out and picking the very best route from place to place.

Hike On.
John McKinney
The Trailmaster