Petersburg, Alaska #4

Ugly or not, We’re Building Trail

by Katie Sobalsky, SCA Intern

We headed to the mountain for our first 10-day hitch, which came and went in the blink of an eye. The crew and I busted it out and built some beautiful trail.

It’s a different forest and different trail than any I’ve worked in before. The goopy, gushing mud is impossible to work with, so we’re building over it with multiple kinds of wood steps and walkways.

At first I admit to being turned off by the trails up here because it’s miles of wooden planks, which is an odd walking surface and seemed so obtrusive to me. Being in the middle of the towering wilderness and to then look down and see factory cut planks and metal nails and plastic netting was a bit unsettling.

But I’ve grown to understand that making a trail aesthetically pleasing is not the most important part of trail maintenance. While building and maintaining good trail is definitely about making it comfortable for the hiker, it’s also about making the least impact on the environment. And since these boardwalks and wooden stairs concentrate the walking on one area they help minimize erosion. There’s really no other way to build trail through mud than what we’re doing, so I’ve grown to appreciate the wooden structures a lot more.

That reminds me of the similar “aesthetics vs. environment” issue with windmills. The site of the whirring beasts offends some people, but when I look at them and think about what they’re doing and how clean they are and everything they represent, I am struck by their beauty.

I’ve accepted that trail construction is intrusive, but believe that the benefits of trails far outweigh their intrusiveness. Building access into the wilderness gives people the chance to interact with the land, to appreciate its beauty and learn to respect it. Time in nature allows us the chance to not just understand the environment better, but to understand ourselves better as well.