State parks trail builders create ‘master class’

Whenever new state parks are created, or older ones are expanded, the first thing visitors want to see is trails so they can fully enjoy the experience. Unfortunately, property for parks never comes “complete with trails included.” The footpaths must be planned and built and maintained.

A portion of the Profile Trail at Grandfather Mountain State Park was rerouted during the class.

A portion of the Profile Trail at Grandfather Mountain State Park was rerouted during the class.

Rangers have been building trails since forever, but techniques (and technology) have evolved. So, North Carolina state parks staff created a Trail Master Certification Course, bringing a group of rangers, maintenance mechanics and park superintendents from across the state to Grandfather Mountain State Park for four days of intensive training on the finer points. Held last week, the

course was divided into segments – design and layout, construction, maintenance and crew leader training. The trainees spent mornings in the classroom and afternoons tackling a section of the park’s Profile Trail, a challenging route that rises sharply in elevation through rhododendron thickets and stony terrain. Trails in other areas of the state present other types of challenges. Eastern parks are interspersed with wetlands, with spongy soil and fragile areas that might require sections of boardwalk. Parks near urban areas must worry about security, noise and keeping visitors clear of adjacent neighborhoods.

Original section of the Profile Trail was tough to navigate with roots.

Original section of the Profile Trail was difficult to navigate due to exposed roots.

The master class was sponsored through North Carolina’s Recreational Trails Program and taught by Mike Riter of Trail Design Specialists, LLC. There are a number of fairly new trail-building companies in North Carolina, and the state parks have contracted with some of those for major re-building operations. Aged trails that have been “loved to death” at Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock state parks have benefitted from these large-scale projects. But, most of the long miles of trails in the parks are created and maintained by maintenance mechanics, seasonal employees, rangers and volunteers.

The parks rely heavily on volunteer groups that can supply manpower to reroute troublesome trail sections or even build new

routes. A stunning new trail opened in 2011 at Elk Knob State Park and was built almost entirely by volunteers. And, Saturday workdays at Crowders Mountain State Park launched what eventually became an eight-mile trail linking North and South Carolina.

Graduates of the first master trail building class for the state parks system.

Graduates of the first master trail building class for the state parks system.

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