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Trail love at Devil’s Den

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February 2014

The thing about trail building is, it’s hard. It’s been two days and the muscles over my ribs are still sore from swinging that McLeod with the big boys. Who knew there even were muscles over your ribs?

But the other thing about trail building is, it’s awesome. You spend a beautiful day in the sunshine creating a sustainable path that you and countless others will enjoy for years. At least that’s how it worked out last weekend at Ozark Off-Road Cyclists’ February trail maintenance day at Devil’s Den.

About 15 volunteers hiked several miles into the Fossil Flats Trail to do a realignment of Racer’s Hill. The old trail was a fall-line trail – the shortest route downhill, but also the same route that water flows. Water speeding down the trail strips off soil, exposes roots, and creates gullies. Fall-line trails are no fun to ride and they’re bad for the environment.

Volunteers on Saturday re-routed about one-third of a mile of trail, creating switchbacks, shaving an outslope, and channeling water off the trail. The group followed guidelines set out by the International Mountain Biking Association for building sustainable trails.

It always surprises me that so many people “give up” one of their Saturday mornings to wake up early, start a cold car, and then engage in manual labor. But after talking with many of the volunteers, I realized they’re giving back, not giving up. And they’re getting just as much as they’re giving.

We started the day with a rather acrobatic crossing of Lee Creek at Campground A. The only way to get to the trail with the dozens of tools we needed was to hike them in. And the only way to get across Lee Creek was to hop across some wobbly stones and a couple of strategically placed logs. It didn’t help that one of the logs was covered with ice. Surprisingly, however, everyone arrived at the other side dry and carrying all their tools.

By the time we arrived at Racer’s Hill several miles later, the sun was out and the jackets and hats had long been stuffed in backpacks. I’ve always imagined trail builders as beardy, burly men wearing lots of flannel. But there were several women, a few teenagers, and of course, Buck the trail dog. That’s not to say there weren’t burly men in flannel. And overalls. They moved rocks, benchcut through black soil, and even carried out three old tires that we found along the way.

Everyone brought their bikes for a celebratory ride on the new trail, but no one had the energy by the time we were done. The section will be pretty bumpy for the next few weeks as it smooths out, but the end result will be a sustainable trail with low environmental impact and a better ride.

Thanks to OORC for the great education on trail building to the all the volunteers who show trail love.

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