While hiking in the Santa Fe National Forest last spring, Walter Futrell clambered over dozens of downed trees and low-hanging branches along the Norski Trail.
A board member for the New Mexico Volunteers for the Outdoors, Futrell decided to do something about the debris.
He assembled a team of volunteers who performed nearly 900 hours of trail maintenance from May to late October.
“There were probably two dozen trees across the trail” when the restoration effort began, Futrell said. “It was in really bad shape.”
Today, there is “a nice, big difference,” he said. “And that for me is personally rewarding.”
The Norski Trail is nestled in an aspen forest near the Santa Fe ski basin. Though it was designed for cross-country skiing, it has become a popular hiking trail warmer months.
Armed with an ax and saw, Futrell spent three days a week clearing the trail. At first, he was the only volunteer.
Then one day, he struck up a conversation with Richard Heath, who was hiking the trail with his wife. They exchanged phone numbers, and a few days later Heath called Futrell and said he was interested in helping.
It was a couple of months into the pandemic, and Heath was itching to get out of the house.
“It’s been great to be able to be outdoors during this strange time,” Heath said. “It makes the weeks go by” more quickly.
Futrell and Heath, who are retired, used a two-person cross-cut saw to slice through fallen trees, some of which were up to 15 feet long and a foot and a half wide.
“We’ve literally moved some huge logs this summer,” Futrell said.
Before the work began, parts of the trail were so narrow that hikers could barely pass through. By removing the wayward timber, the crew restored the track to its original width.
“It’s quite an accomplishment,” said Heath, who volunteered up to two days a week. Looking at the trail now and knowing what it looked like before, “you can really appreciate the difference.”
As the summer wore on, Futrell recruited more volunteers. Elizabeth VanArsdel was walking her dog along the trail one day when she saw “these two older guys slugging it out with tree branches,” she said.
She stopped to talk and agreed to help trim saplings that had sprouted along the trail.
“Since I like to hike so much, this is something that I should contribute to, with a little bit of sweat equity,” VanArsdel said.
Futrell also invited other members of New Mexico Volunteers for the Outdoors to help with trail clearing. Jon Blakey, who has been involved in the group for several years, squeezed in a few sessions with Futrell.
“It’s a very pretty area,” Blakey said of the trail. “It got me thinking, ‘Gee, I need to take up cross-country skiing.’ I haven’t done that since my 30s and I’m 70 years old now.”
They removed deadfall and other debris that might be a hazard to skiers.
“It just cleaned it up nicely, and it’ll be particularly nice for skiers now,” Blakey said.
Futrell has helped restore other trails in previous years.
“And so we got to talking about the Norski Trail and how it needed clearing, it needed some upkeep and some TLC,” said Jennifer Sublett, a volunteer coordinator for Santa Fe National Forest.
“Walter would encounter people on the trail and he would tell them what he was doing and that would motivate other people to get involved,” she added. “We’re really appreciative of that. He’s done a lot of great work out there.”
Futrell said his crew completed about 88 percent of the work they set out to accomplish on the Norski Trail.
“There’s some stuff we’ll go back and do next spring, next summer,” he said. “There will probably be more downed trees that need to be moved.”