Yeah, that’s what we want,” says Bryan Adams, bending down and gloving aside a layer of loose dirt to expose a dark patch underneath. “We want that nice, hard-packed earth.”
I’m standing a few feet away on a segment of new trail cutting into Eureka’s Greensfelder County Park. When I say “new trail” I mean brand-spanking-new, as in we just created the short curve of singletrack out of a corridor of forest marked with colored flags. All around us, other volunteers use strange tools with strange names to connect more sections of virgin trail. Foot by foot, yard by yard.
It’s hard work—in addition to digging, there are rocks, trees and scrub to clear—and I’m still catching my breath when Adams stands back up and begins swinging his Pulaski in short, efficient strokes. The Pulaski is a long-handled firefighting tool that’s part axe, part hoe and very good for breaking up dirt and biting through roots. It strikes the ground with a muffled thump.
Adams, the president of Gateway Off-Road Cyclists (GORC), is clearly more practiced at trail building than I am. In fact, the local nonprofit organization he currently heads up has been designing and constructing multi-use greenways for well over a decade now. Its first project was Matson Hill Park, a 7.4-mile trail in southwest St. Charles County that remains a prime draw for hikers and bikers even after 13 years.
Every spring and fall, GORC holds about 10 trail building days—all manned by members, volunteers and partner groups—to maintain, enhance and create new multi-use trails throughout St. Louis and the surrounding counties. Since its inception, the group has been responsible for creating more than 72 miles of multi-use trails on public land in the St. Louis area, adding about eight more miles each year.
Building the new trail in Greensfelder is just one of GORC’s initiatives for 2014. The segment we’re working on this day is being called the Beulah Connector or Fossil Ridge.
The goal is to create a sustainable trail to connect the Declue/Green Rock/Deer Run trail to the Beulah Trail without using the badly eroded trail that currently runs parallel to the Scenic Loop Road,” said Adams. “In doing so, we built a one-plus-mile trail into a previously undeveloped valley on the eastern portion of the Greensfelder property. This will eventually connect to the re-routed Beulah Trail.”
As is obvious from Adams’ explanation, there’s a lot more to trail building than just moving rocks and dirt. Most trails, in fact, take between 18 to 36 months of planning before the first Pulaski ever breaks the surface. And while GORC is a driving force in local trail building, it’s not the only organization to get its hands dirty. The nonprofit has forged strong relationships with area parks departments and state agencies, all of which work together to access needs and opportunities and approve projects.
Case in point: Land managers noted that the current Beulah Trail in Greensfelder is mostly fall line construction and only usable when completely dry. By replacing it with a properly designed trail, hikers, bikers and equestrians will be able to enjoy parts of the park previously not accessed due to the poor trails available. “We hope to begin construction on [re-routing the Beulah Trail] next fall,” said Adams. “It will be a four- to five-mile loop.”
Other projects currently on GORC radar include:
- Rock Hollow Trail in Wildwood, of which approximately one mile is now complete, will eventually consist of nine miles of new, multi-use trail that will connect Packwood Park in Wildwood and Castlewood State Park in Ballwin.
- Cliff Cave in South County recently received a re-route on a short section of the Spring Valley Trail to address drainage issues and open up a new inner loop area.
- Broemmelsiek Park in St. Charles County, an ongoing project, will get a re-route of the trail around some new construction as well as general maintenance and improvements.
- Indian Camp Creek Park in Foristell, which will be the focus of the National Trails Day build on June 7, will undergo repairs to winter and spring damage, opening of water drains, de-berming and prepping for the United Federation of Dirt (UFD) Indian Camp Creek 3, 6 and 9 Hour Mountain Bike Race on June 21.
Though GORC was founded by and consists of area mountain bikers, Adams is quick to point out that the multi-use trails it helps develop, build and maintain are there for everyone to enjoy. “We’d like to spread the word about our trail builds, as well as the trail resources on our website, to engage other users,” he said. Not only will this allow everyone to feel some stewardship of the trails, it will help create new relationships and strengthen existing ones.
The idea is to build sustainable trails for everyone to use,” Adams said.
More information on GORC can be found at www.gorctrails.com. To learn more about the Indian Camp Creek trail build on June 7, or to sign up, go to www.gorctrails.com/civicrm/event/info?id=257&reset=1.
Author: Brad Kovach is the editor of Terrain magazine.