Trail Work FAQ
The trails we love don’t just happen. Most of our trails were created by mountain bikers and are maintained by mountain bikers – just like you.
Working on a trail you love to ride can be very rewarding. Each time that you ride the trail you’ll look back at your work with a sense of satisfaction and pride that you made the world a little bit better.
As a chapter, we value your time and try to do everything we can to make trail work a pleasant experience. We’ve invested our membership dollars to support you with a tool trailer stocked with the equipment and supplies that you’ll need, and we have trained crew leaders and coordinators to answer your questions and help teach you what you need to know.
Trail work can be addicting and for many of us it has become a hobby and passion in its own right. Still, for each of us, there was a first trail day. Getting ready for that first trail day is what this FAQ is all about. The following suggestions should prepare you and make the work more enjoyable and less intimidating.
Each of our chapter trails has one or more Trail Coordinators. These volunteers work with the park land managers to coordinate trail development and maintenance and to resolve issues. Our TCs are schooled in sustainable trail design and may have a decade of experience on a particular trail. Feel free to contact them any time with suggestions, concerns, or questions.
From time to time, one of our TCs may call for volunteers for a Trail Day. Trail Days are days that we gather together as volunteers to focus our efforts at a particular trail. Some trail days may be focused on a particular large project, such as rebuilding a bridge or opening a new section of trail. Other trail days may be focused on maintenance – fixing mud holes, trimming branches, and other routine activities which keep our trails pristine.
How will the day unfold?
Each trail day is different, but they generally follow this outline:
- Volunteers gather and introduce themselves, usually near the trail head or parking area. Often the chapter will provide bagels and coffee if it’s a morning event. Liability waiver forms will be passed around, a requirement of our insurance and land managers before work can begin. This also helps us track attendance and volunteer hours.
- The trail coordinator will share a short safety talk, highlighting the need for caution when working with sharp tools in close proximity with others in a forest environment. They should discuss any particular challenges in the trail work planned, and make sure everyone knows where first aid supplies can be found in our trailer.
- The trail coordinator will then divide the volunteers into smaller groups, identifying the crew chief for each group and the goals for the day. (If you have any particular interests or have concerns about the group you’re assigned to, now’s the time to raise them. It’s easy to realign groups before work starts.)
- The crew chief will talk about your tasks in more detail, gather the tools you’ll need, and you’ll head out to the work area.
- If the trail day spans lunch, everyone reconvenes at the designated time for food, beverages, and to share progress.
- Depending on the work remaining, groups may head out to continue work, or new groups may be formed to work on other tasks.
What should I wear?
It’s a matter of preference, but hats, long sleeves and long pants means less chance of getting poison ivy, bug bites, scratches, or sunburn. Dressing in layers is a good idea as well – trail work tends to keep you warm in cooler temperatures.
- Gloves are a good idea to protect against blisters. The chapter trailer is well stocked with gloves. Feel free to use them.
- You’ll probably do a lot of walking over uneven terrain. Work boots are a good idea, especially if you’ll be using a shovel.
- Eye protection – Most cycling glasses work well. The chapter trailer has a small selection of safety glasses you can borrow.
What should I bring?
- Water – some folks bring a bottle along while others prefer Camelbak’s. You just don’t want to get dehydrated. On larger organized trail days, we generally provide bottled water.
- Snacks – It doesn’t hurt to stash an energy bar in your pocket. The chapter generally provides a lunch for our volunteers – pizza or grilled food most likely. If you have any special dietary needs, it’s best to provide for them on your own.
- Bug repellant – Depending on the time of year, bug repellant may be a necessity. This usually is available from the Chapter trailer, but it doesn’t hurt to bring your own.
Should I bring tools?
If you have some of these tools, it doesn’t hurt to bring them along to the trail work day. Here are the common tools we use at most trail days:
- Leaf rake — For clear leaves and other duff from new trails.
- Shovel — Useful for filling low spots or building rolling grade dips/knicks. Round point shovels work best.
- Branch loppers, pruners, bow saws — For cutting branches
- McLeod – a robust, long handled rake with a sharpened edge on one side and robust, finger rake on the other. Used to clear organic material, spread soil, and pack down earth.
- Pulaski – an axe-like tool that is useful for cutting into dirt, digging trenches, and clearing roots .
If you don’t have tools, that’s not a problem. The Chapter trailer is fairly well stocked with tools and can accommodate most trail day needs.
Depending on the planned trail work, other tools may be useful. For example, if a bridge is to be repaired, then there may be a call for cordless drills, hammers, wrenches, and saws. If work like this is planned, then Trail Coordinators will announce these special needs before the trail day.
In general, you should not plan on bringing power tools (such as chain saws or brush cutters) without discussing it with the trail coordinator first.
I have ideas for the trail – can we work on those?
It depends. At some local trails, we are given wide latitude to make these decisions and implement changes, but at other trails we are much more constrained in the work that we can do without prior land manager approval. In any case, you’ll need to share your ideas with the Trail Coordinator, who can provide further insights (which may include coaching you on how to best present your ideas to a land manager directly.)
Can I bring my kids?
There’s usually something kids can do and find exciting, but use your judgment. Most young riders get as much satisfaction clearing sticks and branches from the trail as adult riders do. Some times they simply like being in the woods and discovering all sorts of interesting things. Still, it’s important they have proper protection and remain away from any potentially hazardous trail work. And poison ivy.
Should I bring my bike?
That’s not a bad idea, but it depends on the trail conditions. There’s nothing more immediately rewarding than riding a newly groomed or constructed trail with the other volunteers.
Bike trailers can be especially useful during trail days, helping to carry shovels and tools out to the work site.
Can’t make it to a trail day – Can you work on your own?
Yes. Each of our land managers has different rules regarding work, especially using power tools. In general, you’re always welcome to use loppers or pruning shears to clear encroaching bushes, to remove branches and debris from windstorms, and pick up any trash that you find. Beyond that, it’s best to check in with the Trail Coordinator for the trail – you can find them on our contact page or in the trail guide.
There’s a guide to trail trimming available here that might be useful.
Should I report my time?
Reporting and tracking the time that you contribute to a trail is one of the most important things you can do to help us build and maintain great relationships with land managers.
For organized trail days, the TC will report your volunteer hours based on the waiver that you signed at the beginning of the day.
For independent work, please report your time using the form available here.
Ready for more?
The MCMBA maintains a great playlist of trail construction videos. Start watching here.