Building New Paths

Rachael Stark, Northeast Program Coordinator

A trail is defined as an established path especially through a forest or mountainous region, but trails mean a lot more to people than a route through the woods. They can mean time to bond with family, or a moment to connect with the self; they enable the user to lead a healthier lifestyle, or simply to explore the wonders of nature and enrich the spirit. As well utilized as trails are, users don’t often question how the path they travel came to be. Luckily, the people behind conserving, building, and maintaining trails aren’t in it for the glory, and their dedication enables us and future generations to enjoy nature with ease.

Trails come in different lengths, shapes, and surfaces, but no matter what they’re made of, there’s always a dedicated team behind them keeping the trail clean, safe, and attractive for visitors. Some trails are managed by large organizations like the National Park Service, others are managed by the staff of small non-profits, and many are managed by volunteer groups using their personal time to make their community a better place. No matter the size or funding of a trail organization, there are some key components to building and maintaining trails that ensures visitors have a safe, enjoyable experience.

This past Spring members of the NEPA Trails Forum had the opportunity to learn about trail building and maintenance best practices from Dave King,  Owner of Dirt Sculpt, and Bill Kern, Executive Director, Countryside Conservancy at the May Trails Symposium held in Pittston, PA.

In the Fall, trail partners reconvened at North Pocono Trails in Moscow, PA for a live demonstration and hands-on practice of these techniques. Since sections of the trail were located near a stream, participants first learned about identifying potential wash out sites that would be susceptible to erosion from rainfall and flooding. Using simple tools like shovels and mattocks, Dave and Bill demonstrated how to build proper drainage on the trail and encouraged participants to try for themselves.

Want to have a lasting impact on the trails throughout your community? Practice Leave No Trace ( and become an advocate for outdoor ethics. Want to get involved with the protection of your favorite trail? Consider joining a trail stewardship group to help maintain trails, build new paths, restore wilderness, and educate others. Your dedication to trails today helps to build a better path to tomorrow, leaving behind a trace for future walkers to follow.