High school senior Noel Dominguez says he likes hard work. “Hard work is fun actually, especially when we all work together to create something lots of people can enjoy when we are done.” He and 12 of his schoolmates have joined another 10 community volunteers to work on La Piedra Trail. They are part of a community service project sponsored by the Master’s Program, a charter high school housed at the Santa Fe Community College. These students are working under the supervision of Carol Branch of the Santa Fe County Open Space and Trails program.
On this sunny day in May the group breaks into 3 work crews to tackle projects like fixing and reinforcing switchbacks and rerouting a troublesome section of trail. This is how many many of the trails in and around Santa Fe get built: with volunteer labor, volunteer labor of love, sweat and blisters.
As the crew of teenagers and the more experienced trail crew work, hikers come by. One couple exclaimed that they had noticed trail improvements over the last couple years but didn’t know how or who was doing the work. “Now we do and we are so impressed that this work is all done by volunteers. Thank you!”
Trails are mostly built by hand. People digging and chopping with tools commonly found on the fire line in wild fires. The Pulaski, half axe and half mattock or grub hoe, is first in line when digging a new trail. The grubbing edge cuts through the top layers of forest floor to rough in the path. Next a crew of McLeod wielding sculptors comes through to widen, shape and smooth the tread where we walk, run and ride. Rakes, shovels, wheelbarrows, dirtbags and rockslings, clippers and pruning saws are also important to build a trail that is fun to use and lasts a long time without much maintenance.
Land managers including the United States Forest Service, City of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County are responsible for building and maintaining the trails we love. These agencies oversee volunteer groups that adopt trails to keep them in good shape. New trail and maintenance projects go through a thorough planning phase where archeology studies are done; wildlife impact surveys and sustainability analysis determine how the trail will look when it is done. Water runoff is the bane of trails around Santa Fe so particular attention is paid to the slope of the land the trail will traverse and the gradient of the trail tread. Soil type plays a big role in the design of a new trail.
Once all of the planning is done experienced trail designers walk through the rough country marking the route with surveyor’s pin flags and tape. Then the crews of volunteers come in with Pulaskis and McLeods, shovels and pick-mattocks to dig the trail you may soon run or hike over not realizing that the beautiful path you are following was built with lots of dedication and blisters.
“I can’t believe we get credit for this at school. I like being outside and working on these trails. I never even knew they were here before I started this class. Now I bring my friends out here and show them what I did,” Noel says. “I really like being outside now. I feel really good after our class.”
Getting outside is good for you. There are many studies that show how good and beneficial it is to be outside and exercising. The sunshine gives us vitamin D, which helps prevent nearsightedness and regulates our circadian rhythm to help us sleep. In the woods we get clean air, sure there are pollutants and allergens but inside air can be far worse. Exercise and psychological health go hand in hand, boosting serotonin (the “feel good” neurotransmitter), attention span, brain activity and of course the physical benefits of exercising and moving.
The prescription I wrote for myself to gain all these benefits is delivered by trails, ski trails, two track fire roads, arroyos, game tracks, and the greatest of all: singletrack snaking through the woods. I have always been drawn down the trail. From my childhood growing up in Ethiopia to now, decades later, enjoying the special trails in and around Santa Fe. My favorite trails are the trails intentionally made, thoughtfully crafted to provide the most fun and to be sustainable.
There is a very active and dedicated crew of trail workers in Santa Fe. These are the volunteers that build and maintain our beloved trails. Become one of the proud crew, contact the volunteer coordinators for the USFS, City of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County at the phone numbers and email addresses below. Spring is the best time to get out and do some trail work.
https://www.santafecountynm.gov/open_space_and_trails_program Contact Carol Branch at 505-992-3053 or firstname.lastname@example.org
https://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/santafe/workingtogether/volunteering/?cid=stelprdb5358765&width=full Please contact Jennifer for more information or to sign up call 505-753-7331 or email email@example.com
http://www.sfct.org/trails For information on how you can help by serving as a trail volunteer, contact Tim Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or (505) 989-7019.