Trail Building – Learning the Ropes

Note: This is one in a series of blogs on my volunteer work with the Land Trust of North Alabama (just ‘the Land Trust’ here). It details many of my experiences and observations creating and maintaining trails on the Green Mountain Nature Preserve (I’ll use GMNP for it here) in Huntsville. For the rest of this series, just click on ‘Trails’ in the top menu.

As I settled in to my role as a Trail Care Partner with the Land Trust, I was introduced to several of the folks who work at the Land Trust.

First was Brandon, the Land Stewart, one of the ‘boots-on-the-ground’ guys who do so much of the physical tasks, and also have a wealth of trail-building knowledge. We met to go over some preliminaries a week or two prior to the big work day when the Land Trust officially opened GMNP. It came as a bit of a surprise to realize that there were so many details in planning, financing, designing and lastly implementing and maintaining a trail. There are even a couple of concepts, such as the half-way rule (to be explained another day), that aren’t dead simple. In going over a lot of such details, I was definitely reminded of most any engineering discipline with both its theory and application. Was this simply the practice of ‘Trail Engineering’, I wondered?

During the initial work day on National Trails Day, the Land Trust was expecting, and got, a lot of volunteers; maybe 40 or 50. We even had a couple of vans to shuttle workers from the Madison County Nature Trail parking lot to the soon-to-be site of the GMNP trailhead and parking lot. While waiting for the next shuttle, I met Marie. At the time, I had no idea she was the Executive Director of the Land Trust, as well as a former City Planner with the City of Huntsville just after the tenure of Dallas Fanning. Mr. Fanning, one of Marie’s urban planning mentors, and an historical figure in Huntsville, is a topic for another day, as well. I struck up a conversation with her about mosquito repellants, and then on to the shuttle.

At the work site, I met Andy, the Land Manager, who was coordinating all the technical details. And that would be a good brief description of Andy’s overall task at the Land Trust as well; making sure all the technical details work out. As I would soon find out, it is impossible to plan exactly what work to try to accomplish until the actual number of volunteers are standing there ready to go. With so many there, Andy split us into at least four major tasks that I was aware of:

1 – Build a fence around the newly graveled parking lot. It was originally designed for about a dozen or so cars. It has since way over grown that.

2 – Build a kiosk at the parking lot / trailhead for the posting of information. This was a standard Land Trust design with shingled roof.

3 – Build East Plateau Trail, which Brandon had previously explored and flagged. I got on this team. We were actually in two teams for this, the only real trail-building for the day, with teams starting at either end of the new trail.

4 – Build a wooden bridge on Alum Hollow Trail over Turtle Creek. This is the creek that drains Sky Lake, the 17-acre lake in the Madison County Nature Trail. It is the main creek in the preserve. A group of Lockheed Engineering employees who volunteer with the Land Trust were tasked with this and so we call it the Lockheed Bridge.

So off we went to our respective jobs. Just past the parking lot, I met Hallie, whom I had emailed with when signing up. She was at a table gathering names and emails for the mailing list.

At the end of the work day, we had completed everything that Andy had set for us to accomplish. Hats off to the Lockheed team especially, as they had no idea that they were going to be designing AND constructing a 15-foot bridge until time to start. They did a great job.

So GMNP now had two trails: the original Alum Hollow Trail and the new East Plateau Trail. And I had met a few of the folks associated with the Land Trust and learned some more of the basics of trail building, with many more opportunities to come.

BTW, to this day this was the largest work day attendance I have seen at GMNP. In later years, we would occasionally see maybe 20 or 25, like when a Boy Scout troop would show up, but nothing like the 40 or 50 volunteers we had that day.

About Pgibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Software Engineer and part-time banjo instructor. My wife Miiko and I worship at Rivertree Downtown. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin and dulcimer at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play and teach Scruggs, melodic, clawhammer, and 2-finger styles. I'm also very keen on theology, being a Trail Care Partner with the Land Trust of North Alabama, photography, urban planning, architecture, astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, martial arts, and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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2 Responses to Trail Building – Learning the Ropes

  1. Herman says:

    Hi Phill. Thank you for visiting and following HoB. Much appreciated!

  2. Phill Gibson says:

    Thanks, Herman – I’ve enjoyed keeping up with Bowie and Jimi as well! I have my own charges, photos at

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