Knowing Is Half The Battle – Q&A With WTA

Day trip to Vashon

This is a great time of year to remind folks how fragile our trails can get, and just what goes in to keeping them available to everyone. We decided to focus a bit of our attention on the newer trails that have come online within the last so many moons. Again, we like our third party validation, so we thought we’d sit down with one of our partners. Who better than the people that have helped us build and maintain more trails than anyone, the one and only Washington Trails Association [applause].

We lobbed some softballs at them. After this it’s quantum theory and wormholes and stuff.


What does a new trail suffer from its first season?
Ideally, a brand new trail should sit for a couple months before there are any users, as a means of hardening and settling out the freshly disturbed trail bed, but that is not always possible. If a trail does not have this opportunity to rest before user impact, soft spots and drainages issues may occur that can reduce the overall trail quality, especially if the trail is opened during the wet months.

What do we learn about the trail in the first season?
Where drainage issues or soft spots may be and how much impact it will receive from users. Also if there are any erosion issues caused by user impact or water.

How does that inform our maintenance or alterations?
Annual maintenance (drainage cleanout, brushing, removing downed trees, etc.) is encouraged for any trail, especially those with high use. Within the first year of a trail’s opening, there may be a need for maintenance to occur more frequently, based on problems that reveal themselves from user impact.

What are the differences between these lowland trails vs alpine or higher altitudes?
Soil quality can greatly diminish at higher altitudes. While lowland trails tend to have a lot of vegetation and good quality mineral soil that is ideal for trail building, those factors are often limited in the alpine environment.

How has logging or urbanization near these lowland trails effected their construction or maintenance?
Urbanization is putting a greater impact on our lowland trails as more and more users are looking for trails such as Margaret’s Way that are closer to home. Most of the lowland trails we are working on are in regions that have historically experienced logging practices and are generally in their secondary stages of re-growth.

Cougar Mountain Trail Run 2015How many hours go in to building a new trail?
Can vary based on the project. For Margaret’s Way, WTA put in an incredible 8,655 hours in 2014 and 2015 to assist in the building of the Margaret’s Way trail. This number does not include the time King County Parks staff also put in.

Is there something the public can do to help when on the trails? Bucket brigade? Volunteer? Inform?
Writing trip reports about trail conditions on WTA’s website is a great way to help, as well as, volunteering for a work party either with WTA or with other organizations to assist in trail maintenance. Please refrain from doing any trail work without the consent of the land agency and don’t hesitate to relay any trail conditions to the land agency that the trail is on.

What informs WTA when building a new trail?
We rely on our land managers, such as King County to let us know what they are looking for in regards to trail construction requirements. Our default is usually the current best practice guidelines from the Forest Service, but again, these requirements may vary based on the land we are working on.

How often is WTA assisting King County Parks?
WTA assists King County Parks year round on projects, with a majority of our work taking place during the winter season when our work tends to be more restricted to the lowlands due to snow coverage.

Leave a Reply