A community builds a new stretch of Pacific Crest Trail near the Sierra Buttes

As a hiker, I’ve always appreciated a well-maintained trail. You can travel farther with less effort. Your eyes are more often lifted to enjoy the beauty of the area rather than focused on what your feet might be tripping over.

Getting out on trail maintenance projects over the years has given me great appreciation for the work that goes into keeping the tread in great shape and the corridor open for easy passage. But what about building a trail? I always understood that a trail is more than just a line scratched into the dirt, but until I spent a few days constructing new trail, I really didn’t know what was beneath the surface.

Last fall and again this July, I’ve had the opportunity to join PCTA staff and board, American Conservation Experience crewmembers and other PCTA volunteers on our Sierra Buttes Trail Realignment project. This six-mile trail relocation is in the Tahoe National Forest. It’s a big project that will take a few summers and a lot of manpower to complete. The new route will resolve problems where the PCT shares the tread with vehicle traffic on forest roads, moves the trail from private property onto public land and eliminates conflicts with other user groups. It will be more scenic and have better quality water sources and camping opportunities.

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The crew taking a break under a beautiful sky during the Sierra Buttes Realignment. On the break, we hiked the newly flagged route to explore where the trail will eventually pass.

On this project I’ve had the opportunity to dig out rocks and remove tree stumps to help establish a clear smooth path. With help from the ACE crew leaders, I’ve learned to create the proper amount of side slopes and grade. Water flow and drainage are key to sustainable trails: rain and snow runoff should easily find paths down mountains without eroding the trail along the way. I helped remove duff – the soft organic material of the forest – and replaced it with many buckets of rock and mineral soil. In some places, it’s almost as if there is a solid road hidden beneath the dirt.

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Angie Williamson building the unseen Pacific Crest Trail. Few people know that much of the work on the PCT is literally hidden beneath your feet. These rocks will be covered in dirt after they are crushed into small pieces.

Once the construction is complete, the trail crew essentially buries the work and naturalizes the area so it feels as if this path in the woods has always been there.

Working on building new trail was a highly satisfying experience. I loved meeting the crewmembers and volunteers and sharing photos with them. Getting out on these projects is a great way to meet new people.

“I enjoyed camping with the crew and spending time working on the project,” said volunteer Kevin Bacon. “The rock seems even bigger in the picture than in real life — I guess that is the trail building equivalent of what happens to the size of fish in our ‘fish stories.’ “

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Moving big rocks. Volunteers, and PCTA staff use leverage to move a big boulder off the Sierra Buttes Realignment. Thanks again to our partners, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Forest Foundation for supporting this wonderful and new stretch of Northern California’s PCT.

There’s a lot more work to do out there and many opportunities for people to get involved.

The trail is being built to the highest PCT standards. It’s hard, time-consuming work, but if built well from the start, the trail will need minimal maintenance for decades. This will save time and resources in the future.

Funding for this year’s project is provided through the U.S. Forest Service, the National Forest Foundation’s Matching Awards Program and membership donations. Many thanks for your support!

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Interested in learning what’s beneath your feet and spending time with some great people in a beautiful location? It’s rewarding work and we need your help. You can join a five- or 10-day hitch in August, September and early October. We still have many open spots for volunteers. Check out the project dates and details here.

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Building brand new trail tread in virgin terrain is a pretty remarkable experience. Special thanks to the ACE crew for their remarkable, and exceptionally high quality work on this new stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Author: Angie Williamson

Angie Williamson is the Director of Philanthropy for the Pacific Crest Trail Association. She oversees our fundraising work so that we have the resources we need to fulfill our mission. Her favorite part of her job is talking with donors who share our passion for the PCT.