Just as construction on Highway 50 winds down for the season, the Tahoe Rim Trail Association also prepares to put the finishing touches on its own road project of sorts.
It's taken more than 10 years and thousands of volunteer hours, but the Daggett Summit Trail System project near Kingsbury Grade is almost complete. Volunteers will come out for the final work day of the season this Saturday, and project leader Clay Grubb expects the whole system of trails to be finished by next July.
That system includes about 15 miles of new trail that replaces a four-mile stretch of pavement, a Van Sickle-Tahoe Rim Trail connection and a 6.7-mile recreation loop. This summer alone, Grubb estimated that volunteers - who have worked Tuesdays and Saturdays throughout the summer - will have put in about 8,600 hours.
That time plus $300,000 in recreational trail grants for the Daggett Summit project have made the system one of the best in the basin, with stunning, easily-accessible views. The loop trail looks like the backwoods version of a highway - wide, easy to navigate, and lined evenly with large granite slabs.
Grubb compares the work to a road construction project. First comes design, layout and permitting. Only then does Grubb call in the grunts to clear a corridor for the route by digging up roots and removing brush. Once cleared, trail veterans come in for some of the more technical rock work to line the path with granite and dirt walls.
And most hikers whose boots pound the trail's dirt next summer will have no idea how much sweat and love went into the route.
"Ideally we don't want people to notice how much work went into it. But people who know trail building will know and I think they'll be very impressed," TRTA Director of Trail Operations Morgan Fessler said.
The work is a labor of love. This summer marks John McKenna's 12th season working on the trail. The Carson City-County Supervisor has been out in the woods every Saturday and most Tuesdays wielding a hammer or pry bar, and he's about to become one of those unicorns of Tahoe trail volunteers - a man who's worked almost every foot of the 165-mile rim trail.
"I don't hike. I work. I get to move rocks. I like to get out and do stuff to help the trails," McKenna said as the crew worked to align a 100-pound boulder along the side of the path.
Part of the additional work stems from Grubb's perfectionism. He admits that the Daggett Summit Trail System was not the quickest or the easiest way to build the routes. But for Grubb, the work wasn't about speed.
"The big part is the design and layout. By getting out to the place with the perfect lake view or the rock spur, the work might take a month when it should have taken a day. But it's worth it," Grubb said.
The ultimate goal is to build a trail that doesn't need regular maintenance and that takes advantages of the forest's natural features.
"We tell our recruits, the Incas built trails that lasted up to 700 years. So that's our objective. But we'll settle for 50 years," Grubb said.
Already the Van Sickle connector has seen a lot of traffic, Fessler said, and even though it's not officially open, the small loop gets it's fair share of mountain bikers and hikers. It might not be as congested as Highway 50, but it's still getting people outside and active on an easy-access trail, she said.