Trail Building School in the South March Highlands

This past weekend I had the good fortune to attend a trail building school held by the people who invented sustainable trail building and literally wrote the books on it, the International Mountain Bicycling Association's IMBA Canada Trail Care Crew:

Supported by Parks Canada and the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) and directed by the International Mountain Bicycling Association Canada (IMBA Canada), the IMBA Canada Trail Care Crew works with IMBA Canada-affiliated mountain bike clubs, TCT Provincial and Territorial organizations, Parks Canada and other trail user groups. Its mandate is to build new trails, maintain and restore existing trails, participate in solving trail management challenges, and to promote trails in order to improve trail conditions and trail experiences for everyone.

The IMBA Canada Trail Crew is a dynamic two-person team of professional trail builders that will travel throughout Canada year-round.

The work that the crew will do will benefit all types of trail users including hikers, horseback riders, mountain bikers, cross country skiers, snowshoers, bird watchers, and all other outdoor opportunities that use trails.

Source: Parks Canada website
Sustainable trail building is not just about mountain biking, and indeed most MTB trails are shared trails and IMBA has been working with other trail users in providing education and has trained people from the National Capital Commission (NCC) and Parks Canada in sustainable trail building methods. Parks Canada is currently revising their trail building manuals to reflect IMBA guidelines, and the NCC seems to be going through a slow shift in their attitude to mountain biking.

The first thing we learned at trail building school is that water runs downhill, well actually that was the second thing we learned. The first thing we learned was that planning is the most important part of trail building and should have the most time devoted to it. Key points are that all trail users need to be considered in planning a trail and that route design can be key in making a trail sustainable.

This is where the water runs downhill part comes in. One of the biggest factors in sustainable trail building is avoiding erosion so that designing a trail so that water runs off it rather than along it is key, and much of what we learned had to do with the degree of incline and slope of a trail. The bench cut method is one way of doing that. Some of the things we learned are described here.

Other factors in designing trails include keeping them away from fragile habitats of endangered species, the Blandings Turtle was mentioned, indicating that the Trail Care Crew was familiar with the SMH situation.

During the trail building school we got to meet many new people and learn a lot of new information, some of it not directly related to trail building techniques, such as the fact that OMBA has been given permission by the City to post signs on the SMH trails to help bikers and hikers know where they are and find their way out. I expect the signs will be in place by next spring. I also learned that the City of Ottawa's draft trail plan for the South March Highlands, with its inappropriate trail closures and denaturalization of trails, is apparently dead. Hopefully it will be back to the drawing board with proper consultations with the public and experts in trail design and building.

We spent the morning in the classroom and the afternoon in the field building a new trail, actually a re-route, in the South March Highlands.

Photos courtesy of David N of OMBA

In The Classroom

The Crew

Hiking In

The Route Is Flagged

Briefing From The Expert

Raking The Path

Bench Cut

Rock Work

The Finished Trail

Restoring The Old Trail

More photos of trail building school are available here.

Trail building school was sponsored by the Ottawa Mountain Bike Association (OMBA).

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