Columbia Cascades Trail Skills College

Photo by Susan Tracy

Photo by Susan Tracy

2024 Columbia Cascades Trail Skills College

The Columbia Cascades Trail Skills College will return in 2024 as an in-person, three-day gathering!

Trail Skills College is offered free of charge in an effort to inspire stewardship of trails. In exchange for attending a training session, we encourage you to volunteer at least 8 hours of work on trail projects in the coming year.

Registration for the 2024 event has now closed. 

When is it?

The 2024 Columbia Cascades Trail Skills College will be held from April 26th – 28th, 2024. 

Where is it?

The 2024 Trail Skills College will be hosted at the Cascade Locks Marine Park; 427 Portage Road, Cascade Locks, Oregon. Field sessions will take place in the greater Columbia River Gorge area.

How much does it cost?

Trail Skills College is free of charge.

What classes are offered this year?

In 2024 we will offer the following classes:

This introductory sampler class is for people new to trail work who want an overview. One quarter of the class covers “how trails work,” i.e. basic trail design concepts; one quarter covers trail work safety protocols; one quarter covers hands-on brushing and hand-saw clearing; and one quarter covers hands-on drainage cleaning. This sampler class does not prepare students to work independently. Instead, students will understand a range of trail work tasks and have a good idea of what they want to do under a crew leader, or what class they want to take next.

Intended for those new to trail work who want to learn how to cut brush and small logs to help clear a trail to proper specifications. After discussion of general safety protocols, students learn about safe and effective use of hand saws and loppers. This class also includes how to complete an early-season trail survey to identify and report major problems, especially blown down logs – their numbers, locations, and sizes.

Water and gravity constantly threaten our trails and thus we must learn how best to deflect them. This course begins with basics of hillside hydrology and how trails work when they shed water properly.
Includes introduction of “trail eyes” and basic trail design concepts, as well as how to recognize tread erosion patterns. Hands-on practice removing slough and berm, and effective cleaning and maintenance of existing water bars and grade dips.

Are you interested in helping certified sawyers to clear trails, but don’t have much experience working with or around saws? Regardless of if you aim to become a certified sawyer yourself, learning to be a safety-conscience saw crew member is an important place to start. This class provides field experience with crosscut saws and axes, but most of the principles are also applicable to chainsaws. Therefore, this class is the place to start, no matter what trail clearing tools you expect to use in the future.

The session begins with an introduction to crosscut saws and axes of various types, and how they work. It then covers their safe and effective use, including a review of trail clearing specifications, safety equipment, the forces of tension and bind, and the practice of situational awareness.

This class is an introduction; it does NOT provide saw certification, which is required for those who wish to be lead sawyers.

Learn how to care for trail tools and protective gear. Keeping tools sharp is critical for working efficiently and safely. We’ll cover how to properly sharpen basic trail tools and discuss why we don’t sharpen others. Class may also involve re-handling and repairing broken tools. 

Basic First Aid & CPR Certification, half-day class. 

This class will feature an interpretative hike with the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic area botanist. Come enjoy an afternoon walk as you learn about the local flora and fungi, how to spot some common invasives, area fire history, and whatever you’ve always wanted to learn from a botany expert in the Gorge!

For curious trail workers who want to understand why so many trails are in bad shape because of how they were made. Learn how better design and layout makes trails more sustainable and less prone to erosion. Introduction to different trail design standards appropriate for different kinds of trails. This class is for anybody interested in these topics, but students with some trail building and maintenance experience will benefit the most.

Intended for someone who has taken 102 Tread & Drainage and/or has experience doing drainage work. Learn how to design and locate effective drainage structures. After a comprehensive explanation of hillside hydrology and how trails work when they shed water properly, this class shows students how to design and construct long, rolling drain dips as a way of reducing erosion on existing trails.

Review the concepts of hillside hydrology and basic trail layout. Re-excavate badly slipped and cupped tread to re-establish outslope and restore the tread to original or ideal specs. (Pre-requisite: 102, or equivalent experience)

The PCT and its feeder trails cross water courses of every conceivable size and type. Because bridges are time consuming and expensive, whenever possible it is better to build simpler structures that are more durable. Learn to build and maintain two to three of the following: fords, stepping stones, culverts, French drains, armored swales, and step down drains. If you enjoy working in water, this is the course for you!

For students with moderate to extensive trail building experience who want to lead trail crews and work parties. Not a construction techniques class; this is about effective leadership. Students will have classroom and field work in the following topics: work day responsibilities, risk assessment and safety, tool
safety and tool talk, leadership and team building, practical experience leading volunteers.

Elbow grease and brute force will only get you so far, sometimes you need to work smarter and not harder. This class is an introduction to devices and systems used for applying mechanical advantage to lift or move a load, be it a large boulder, log, or buckets of gravel down a zip line. Starting with a rock bar as the simplest of levers, the class will progress to an introduction to winches, blocks, and mechanical advantage rigging systems.

View our Trail Skills College Course Curriculum Here!

What’s the schedule?

Friday April 26th:

  • 107 Hand Tool Field Maintenance (Afternoon)
  • Plants of the Gorge (Afternoon)
  • 103 Basic Saw Crew Training
  • Intro to Rigging & Mechanical Advantage
  • 304 Crew Leadership: Working With Volunteers

Saturday April 27th:

  • Intro to Trail Maintenance (Day 1)
  • 200 Basic Trail Design (Day 1)
  • 101 Intro to Trail Scouting
  • 201 Drainage Design
  • 103 Basic Saw Crew Training

Sunday April 28th:

  • Intro to Trail Maintenance (Day 2)
  • 200 Basic Trail Design (Day 2)
  • 102 Tread & Drainage
  • 302 Drainage Crossings
  • 103 Basic Saw Crew Training
  • 205 Tread Re-Construction
  • First Aid/CPR (Morning and Afternoon Sessions)

Note: Please only sign up for one session of Basic Saw Crew Training, we are offering it 3 times due to its popularity, but the same material will be covered each day. Thanks!

Are meals and lodging provided?

Dinner will be provided on Friday and Saturday. Please plan to bring your own food for Breakfast and Lunch each day; we will have some coffee & snacks available.

Free tent camping is available at the Marine Park on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights; there may be limited space for RVs, please email us if you plan on bringing one.

Many other lodging options are available in Cascade Locks, check their website for some examples: Hotels & Motels – Cascade Locks Tourism Committee

What’s the fitness level of Trail Skills College?

The fitness level of the field sessions will vary depending on the classes you select during registration. However, all participants should be prepared to hike a minimum of 1-2 miles while carrying personal gear and tools. Participants should also be prepared for the hands-on learning opportunities in many of these classes, resulting in 6 hours of active trail maintenance per day.

How do I register?

Registration for the 2024 event has now closed. If you have questions, please email [email protected].

Can’t wait?

Don’t forget, you can learn new trail maintenance skills by volunteering on a PCTA trail crew any time. Most crews don’t require any previous trail maintenance experience. Knowledgeable and experienced crew leaders are on site to teach you the necessary skills.  Visit PCTA’s online schedule to find trail projects near you.

If you have questions about Trail Skills College, contact PCTA’s Volunteer Program at [email protected].



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