Trail Building at Santos
I spent last weekend building good karma by trail building at Santos, near Ocala, Florida. If you’ve never heard of Santos it’s I wrote about it earlier on the Trails We Love: Santos page at Strackacobra.com. Santos is also my home course so it was especially important to give back. This is the first time I’ve ever helped build a trail.
It was a bit of an eye opener.
In this cut-and-dried, pre-packaged world there is an expectation for things to be so precise. But there’s not a whole lot of that in trail building.
While there is a lot of care in choosing the route based on topography and drainage, once you get on the ground it’s done by touch and feel.
First the course is flagged by walking…which can be difficult because of all the palmettos and understory we have here in Florida. Then come the chainsaws clearing out the major obstacles, but leaving the trees. You want the trees to wind in and out of.
When they were clearing with the chainsaws the day before I came in they encountered a massive beehive in an old oak tree along the route. The guy running the saw said the bees were “like a dark cloud” there were so many.
Instead of clearing the hive they rerouted the trail giving enough clearance to the old oak. That’s the “touch and feel” approach, and an ecologically sensitive one as well. Good for the bees, good for the trees, good for the riders.
They pointed out the tree to us as we came along…when there are enough bees to see a clear traffic pattern in and out, you know it’s a big hive.
After the chainsaws, two bush hogs came through to knock out some of the understory. Then I and a bunch of others came along with loppers to clear what the bush hogs missed, and to clear all the small and straggly branches at rider level. Then came rakes to move the pine needles but leave the duff, so the trail would break in gradually without the sand bleeding up and through.
There have been times I’ve been on a trail and got–shall I say, “discomforted”–when I’ve hit a small, hard knot of tree stump that I didn’t see in the middle of the trail. I’ve always assumed that the trail builders were sadistic bastards that left those things there on purpose. The truth is that things are just too damn hard to remove in the course of clearing two miles of trail (as we did that day). We get them down as low as possible, but then it’s time to move on. And that’s how a trail gets its character.
This trail has been in the planning stage for months with the goal of having it completed by March for the Ocala Mountain Bike Association’s (OMBA’s) Spring Break Fat Tire Festival. It extends the western-most trails in the Santos system by three miles. This was a beginner level trail, but there are plans to add some intermediate level trails in the same area as money becomes available: there are ravines on the tailings of the ancient Florida Barge Canal project that will need bridges.