April 25, 2012 at 12:45 PM

Where Good Trails Come From

"Good trails don't just appear out of nowhere."

By Karen Denison

At Home Outdoors

Karen Denison is owner of Outspire Hiking and Snowshoeing guide service, a former biologist, and a shameless admirer of the outdoors.

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As someone who spent a summer away in the Youth Conservation Corps during my high school years and numerous volunteer workdays as an adult, I can tell you that good trails don't just appear out of nowhere.  Good, thoughtful trails take a traveler from point A to point B, but do so in a fashion that is both pleasant for the traveler and easy on the landscape.

Of course, part of the joy of New Mexico's wide-open spaces is going off trail, cross-country over the landscape.  Again, as long as it's done thoughtfully, I'm a big fan.  There are wonderful places to explore and better chances to find some of the peace and quiet so lacking in typical daily life.  But many footsteps or hoof prints over the same ground results in a "user-defined" trail and can be damaging to the very places they go.  User-defined trails often simply go straight up hills or along streams.  These "fall line" routes are perhaps natural for people and animals but they can cause great damage, especially in New Mexico's highly erodible soils.  And once a trail becomes "known", it is almost impossible to undo.  If you do off-trail hiking or riding, please try to vary your path, spread out a group and refrain from leaving a new trail.

Volunteer groups like those organized by the Trails Alliance of Santa Fe (trailsallianceofsantafe.org/) , REI (http://www.rei.com/stores/114), Back Country Horsemen of New Mexico (http://www.bchnm.org/index.htm) , and New Mexico Volunteers for the Outdoors (http://www.nmvfo.org/) have done great work in the area.  Kudos today to Jennifer Sublette of Santa Fe National Forest and the volunteers who have been working to rehabilitate an old stock trail over the last two seasons.  Click to enlarge the photos above for evidence of their hard work.  Lots of rock-rolling involved and it's looking good!

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