GDTA Crew Leaders Training

By Jeff Gruttz

Sure, we all ‘know’ trails BUT are our volunteers fully cognizant of how sustainable trails are built and maintained? When our focus is enjoying the scenery or getting to the next campsite it’s not an easy task to understand how those ‘been there forever’ trails were constructed.

Calgary is at the fortunate confluence of multiple streams of a wide range of trail construction expertise. Doubly beneficial is the willingness of many individuals to share their experience with others. Whether it’s high-standard paved urban pathways, on-street bicycling facilities, equestrian trails, single-track walking or mountain biking trails, back country log bridges, via feratta or cable rope ways the knowledge sharing is there for the asking.

GDTA volunteers were fortunate to have a two day volunteer crew leader training session led by David Mills of The Calgary Mountain Bike Alliance (CMBA) in mid-June. David was very knowledgeable of International Mountain Bike Alliance (IMBA) trail building techniques. David refined his capabilities through many years of trail building with CMBA volunteers and paid crew on a multi-use trail network in the Station Flats area just west of Calgary in the Elbow River watershed.   


Are we reading your thoughts: “What do mountain bike trails have to with our GDT interests in long distance hiking trails?” The best answer is the following: It’s the reason why Parks Canada Agency hired the former IMBA Canada Trail Care Crew leader, Mark Schmidt, to assess ALL national park trails and design a strategy for their sustainability. IMBA’s trail building techniques are based on well-grounded engineering principles: build with the end-user in mind, move water off trails as quickly possible and build for tomorrow rather than just next week. 

Our GDTA volunteers’ absorbed David’s classroom presentation on the first day with many interactive Q’s and A’s dispelling trail building myths (trail edge retaining logs block water outflow!) while the second day in the field enabled participants to observe and practice in part the previous day’s theory. David was fully humble with several mentions of ‘we could have done this better’ and ‘here’s how we’ll correct that trail issue for the future.’

Any and all questions about trail construction techniques were addressed including: maximum gradients, trail out sloping, grade reversals, soil types and textures, clearing and tread widths, climbing and switchback turns, crossing gullies, tool limitations, hazard identification, value of planning, dealing with conflict, learning styles, volunteer encouragement / management and FUN.


Crew leaders gained an appreciation for trail building as an art rather than 100% all-encompassing engineering techniques. An ability for GDTA leaders to share their new learnings with crew members will go a long way towards building the best new trail possible within our means while minimizing future maintenance requirements.  Don’t hesitate to ask crew leaders this summer ‘why’ the trail is routed where it is or if a grade reversal should be included on what appears to be a sustained gradient. Our collective expertise can only grow if we understand and share basic trail building principles and practice correct techniques!  

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