Trail work may be as much about shaping souls as moving mountains.
Take Thomas Flores, 15, of South Lake Tahoe, who was out working on the Lighthouse Trail in D.L. Bliss State Park Thursday with a handful of his peers for Tahoe Hardrockers.
The teenager said that beyond the ability to do volunteer work he appreciates the encouraging words from the California State Parks workers. He’s part of a Walden School crew who have donated their time to the Hardrockers. The nonprofit volunteer organization contracted with the school for the labor. In turn, the at-risk youth learn the hard knocks of life and the fruits of that labor.
“I like the people I work with,” he said, standing with confidence over the rockbed basin he helped create off the trail near the park’s main road off Highway 89.
This could be welcomed news to agencies trying to keep trails groomed in a day and age when paths into the wilderness experience much use and less volunteers in the maintenance pool.
Marking the next generation of trail builders, the boys constructed the drainage basin and anchored the surrounding area with a mulch of pine needles. They also piled rocks around the ramp to the bridge over the basin. Earlier in the week, they worked on the Rubicon Trail that connects D.L. Bliss to the Vikingsholm beach at Emerald Bay.
The California Conservation Corps will start working on the trail next week at the boat camp, where they’ll stay overnight to get the job done.
The CCC is one of a number of agencies that perform trail work around the basin.
The quandary is: more people use the trail system while less individuals are volunteering to maintain them.
Most trail work authorities agree the paths leading outdoor enthusiasts into the wilderness endure much stress. Tahoe is no exception.
“I think if you look at the Lake Tahoe user, there’s a change. Less people are gambling and more people are recreating. Younger people are becoming more mobile, so the facilities here are much more heavily used,” said Dan Ferreira, CCC project coordinator at the Echo Summit complex. “That’s why the best management practices and standards are so stringent.”
Brian Woodson, a skilled laborer of the California State Parks’ Sierra District, has also noticed the volunteer pool diminish.
That’s why the agencies depend on programs to do the work.
“I find it’s not only the chance to give back into the environment, but it helps educate the youth of what they’ll be responsible for when they become parents,” Woodson said.
Woodson recalled his CCC crew using chisels, hammers and metal bars last year to create rock steps leading down the Rubicon lighthouse off the D.L. Bliss trail. Some of the rocks, which were delivered via cart and wheelbarrow, weighed between 500 and 1,500 pounds.
On the other side of Lake Tahoe, a Nevada State Parks team has been working with the state Conservation Corps between Spooner and Marlette lakes to build a trail for hikers and equestrians as a four-mile alternative to the North Canyon Road. This is a popular mountain biking route to the Flume Trail.
The parks team expects to complete the job by next July. The trail situated west of and parallel to North Canyon Road is halfway done.
“It’s becoming a lost art among the general public. The art of trail construction lies more with government agencies and less with the general public,” Howard said. “And agencies don’t have the manpower to do it. That leaves us in a tough spot. Most can handle existing trails, but when it comes to new trails, we could fall short of these projects.”
And it can get pricey. Some trail work can cost $5 per square foot on the flat terrain. The steep grades may require pitching in $25 per square foot.
With that, there are private companies out there to do this work. Don Hays, who owns his own trail construction business in Tahoe City, has taken on jobs that have sent him all over the state – from San Diego to Santa Cruz.
The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit uses the summer to perform ongoing trail work. The last significant project involved rerouting the trail above Eagle Lake around a boulder that fell onto the existing route.
“That happens a lot,” LTBMU ranger Don Lane said.
The big Forest Service job is scheduled next year when the federal agency plans to reconstruct a trail from the Bay View parking lot at Emerald Bay to the Cascade Lakes waterfall.
Seeing an ongoing need all over the nation, Sierra Club management has beefed up the number of outings that involve volunteer work. Of these trips, 80 percent require trail work and backcountry restoration.
“It’s a great way for people to give back and get away,” National Outings Coordinator Tony Rango said.
Meanwhile, the work of the Hardrockers group hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Even a couple from France observed the work.
In France, beaten-down paths mark the trails. Here, trails like the path to the Rubicon Lighthouse resembles a highway to them.
“There must be a tremendous amount of work required. It’s really amazing,” Olivier Dameron said, noting the comparison to French trails.
– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org