November 24, 2012

“Trail science” is the base under which hikers experience the wilds

English: Hikers on the Steiregg hiking trail, ...
Hikers on the Steiregg hiking trail, above the town of Grindelwald, Switzerland. This is one of many spectacular and well-maintained hiking trails in the Swiss Alps. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hikers who walk a myriad of trails know a good trail from a bad one. Detecting a bad trail is as simple as feeling it – in your feet, ankles, knees and hips, as leg muscles and joints adjust to poor trail conditions. Few things are worse on a hike than walking on a trail two feet wide and shaped like a half-pipe.

For the simple reason “if you’re gonna do it then do it right,” entire books and papers have been written about what I call “trail science.” It is the construction of good trails that will need minimal maintenance, maintenance that will correct a situation so it doesn’t happen again or for a decent length of time, and reconstruction of trails that were ill-conceived in the first place.

Because so many guides regarding “trail science” exist, I will use the U.S. Forest Service’s The Trail Construction and Maintenance Notebook for a series of posts in the coming days. Trail science is like any other science: it can get bogged down in the finer points a lot of people don’t much care about. The Forest Service’s manual also contains such information. It will be my job to make “trail science” interesting for hikers, something they can use to enjoy the hiking experience even more.  

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