The hiker is perched precariously on a wobbly rock in the middle of the rushing Tesuque Creek, trying to keep her feet dry and cross. The cold water is run-off from the melting snow higher up the mountain. The Winsor Trail crosses and re-crosses the creek so many times here it’s easy to lose count. As she makes it safely across and her way up the trail she finds bridges. Volunteer trail crews built these bridges to help hikers, mountain bikers and trail runners cross the creek and to protect the waterway. Volunteers donated over 15,000 hours in 2015 to help others enjoy campgrounds and trails in the forest.
Jennifer Sublett, volunteer coordinator for the Espanola and Pecos/Las Vegas ranger districts of the Santa Fe National Forest, is breaking in nine new crew leaders on a blustery spring morning with the first crew leader course in four years. They are gathered in a classroom discussing trail building techniques and theories, like de-berming, knicks and rolling grade dips. These are all trail-building practices that help manage water on the trail and the erosion it can cause. The course curriculum includes topics like leadership, trail maintenance and risk and safety management. “At the completion of the Crew Leader Course, participants will have the ability and confidence to plan and effectively lead safe, fun, and rewarding trail projects on Forest Service system trail, as well as other local trails,” said Sublett.
As the USFS District Volunteer Coordinator, Sublett oversees these people and people like them that look after more than 500 miles of trails in the Santa Fe National Forest. “Volunteers are crucial for building and maintaining trails, hosting campgrounds and monitoring archeological sites,” she tells the class. “And you are going to be a part of that now.”
Brent Bonwell is the president of the Fat Tire Society, a mountain bike club that is building those bridges on the heavily used Winsor Trial. He learned, or rather reinforced, something he knew about himself after completing a leadership style self-assessment questionnaire. He falls into the “authoritarian” spectrum of leadership styles. “I like to plan out each step of the project and identify people to do each job to get it done and I might be a little pushy about it,” he said after chuckling about the results of his test. “This class is giving me the tools to be a more effective leader.”
Trails are built and maintained with hand tools, shovels, Pulaskis (half ax and half grub hoe) and McLeods (a hoe on steroids also used in wildland firefighting). Part of the crew leader training is to replace broken handles, also called re-handling. Julie Dolan is a full time student and regular volunteer with the Forest Service. In addition to becoming a crew leader she is also learning and practicing the craft of re-handling.
In a workshop outside the classroom, Dolan briefly describes the process that all of the candidates will be using in the next few weeks. Sharp tools and stout handles are important to help make the grueling work of trail building a bit easier and this new batch of crew leaders will make sure there are enough tools for volunteer crews. The Forest Service relies almost solely on volunteers to maintain trails. With over 500 miles of trails in the Espanola and Pecos/Las Vegas Ranger Districts, the Forest Service relies on volunteers to clear trails and make trail tread repairs. There are some grant-funded crews that work on projects, but the majority of work is accomplished by dedicated volunteers.
Volunteer work days for anyone interested are being offered this spring in April, May and June. The first work day is on the Dead Dog Trail, April 2, 2016. Contact Jennifer Sublett at (505) 753-7331 or firstname.lastname@example.org. All volunteers must wear long work pants, long sleeves, non-skid and above the ankle boots, leather gloves and protective eyewear.
Other work days are Saturday April 16, location to be determined, May 7, 15 and June 11, on the Winsor Trail. All work days begin at 9 AM and end by 2 PM.
Peter Olson is La Piedra Trail steward.