Technology Hiker

National Trails Day: Trail Building Behind the Scenes

Clb RedwoodNational Trails Day celebrates America’s trails on June 6.  The American Hiking Society sponsors the day, coordinates local events, and publicizes them.  In turn local parks & trail groups organize volunteer trail builds across the US.  What goes on behind the scenes to plan a trail build?  This article describes how a National Trails Event is executed.  It leverages some of the planning with The Trail Center and San Mateo County Parks for their June 6 Trail Build near Huddart Park in Woodside, CA.

Plan the Trail Work

Planning for National Trails Day begins far in advance.  The trail group and land agency must progress2first must decide what trail needs to be maintained or built based on trail need, accessibility, and available resources. The Trail Center and San Mateo County Parks selected the Bay Area Ridge Trail along the Skyline Trail based on water damage to the trail and the ability to stage a large numbers of volunteers.  After selection the trail day supervisor identifies objectives for the day like tread restoration, improving drainage, reroutes, or building trail structures along the trail.   Flagging the trail & marking GPS waypoints specify the workday plans to share with larger audiences.  The plans help coordinate experienced trail builders called crew leaders who in turn who lead others volunteers.

Generate Excitement & Logistics

115-1573_IMGDifferent roles help bring the trail build to life.  Outreach coordinators get the word out about the build and sign up volunteers.  Project volunteers deliver tools to the build site.  Other volunteers bring food for lunch and an after build celebration.  Photographers take pictures of the day and post it to social media.  Crew leaders lead squads of volunteers on the day’s objectives.  Park Rangers work side by side with volunteers.  The specialization allows the parks to organize large number of volunteers efficiently.

Day of the Event

Building trails is both an art and a science.  At the start of the day, the crew supervisor reviews the plan with crew leaders before volunteers arrive.  As they arrive, they sign waivers, hear about the park & workday, and learn how to be safe with tools.  After the group talks, volunteers gather their equipment (e.g., clean gloves, tools, water) and break up into crews led by crew leaders.  The start of the day is the most complicated time for the Trail Day Supervisor.  He must direct the crews to the right areas and ensure they are safe.  Starting volunteers working within a reasonable time from the start time is one key success factor.  During the day the trail supervisor walks the trail, reviews progress, and motivates volunteers.  The second biggest workday challenge is adjusting the plan and redeploying crews.  Volunteers usually finish their objectives earlier or later than planned, so they must leapfrog to the next objective.

Before & After

Before & After


Volunteer trail building has three objectives in descending order: be safe, have fun, and do good work.  Nothing helps a celebration like some sugary snacks, salty foods, and good beverages.  Celebrating the day helps enhance the experience for volunteers and hopefully  encourages them to join the next build.  Posting pictures of the event and sharing on social media also make the build more memorable for volunteers.  Then, the work to organize a trail build can start again.

National Trail Day June 6

Much preparation goes into a successful volunteer trail build.  Organizing the day involves a lot more than just moving dirt.  The National Trails Day site includes information on the well planned events near your home.  If you’re in the Bay Area, please join the Trail Center & San Mateo County Parks along the Bay Area Ridge Trail.