Columbia Cascades Trail Skills College

Photo by Susan Tracy

Photo by Susan Tracy

2023 Columbia Cascades Trail Skills College

The Columbia Cascades Trail Skills College will return in 2023 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 2023 Trail Skills College has now closed.

When is it?

The 2023 Columbia Cascades Trail Skills College took place from April 28th – 30th, 2023. Stay tuned for details about next year’s event.

Where is it?

The 2023 Trail Skills College was hosted at the Cascade Locks Marine Park; 427 Portage Road, Cascade Locks, Oregon. Field sessions took 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 2023 we offered 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.

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

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.

Become more sign savvy! Understand trail sign specifications and learn how to install signs correctly. Learn to record sign inventory records in conjunction with agency partners. Students should be seasoned hikers experienced with map reading, have some experience with basic tools, be detail-oriented with clear hand writing, and be comfortable learning to use digital devices.

Learn fundamentals of drystone retaining wall construction. Includes a strong emphasis on effective and safe use of masonry tools. We’ll tackle rock selection and transportation; rock splitting and shaping; rock placement and wall batter; and other fundamental techniques for constructing walls to last the ages.

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.

This course, taught by a packer, is meant to take any intimidation out of planning a trip that’s going to be pack-supported, especially for those not experienced with equine. Students will learn safety around the stock, and some horseman lingo. They will learn what essential pieces of information need to be discussed with the packer in advance.
This course won’t make students into packers, but they will gain a general understanding of the key principles of packing and balancing panniers, coolers, tools, and other trail crew gear.

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.

Learn the steps for estimating time and materials, and setting up a work project. Learn about trail triage: how to prioritize and what techniques to use when total trail reconstruction to ideal specs is not an option. Understand environmental concerns and policies that may impact projects. Learn what to look for when scouting a trail and how/when to schedule work. Develop advanced knowledge of project layout and trail (re)construction

View our Trail Skills College Course Curriculum Here!

What’s the schedule?

Yellow class blocks are multi-day classes. (This schedule does not appear properly on certain mobile devices, please try from a laptop/desktop web browser– sorry!)

Friday April 28 Saturday April 29 Sunday April 30
First Aid/CPR (afternoon) 100 Intro to Trail Maintenance — 100 Intro to Trail Maintenance
208 Trail Sign Installation & Inventory 101 Intro to Trail Scouting 102 Advanced Treadwork
398 Mechanical Advantage & Rigging 201 Drainage Design 302 Drainage Crossings
400 Crew Leadership: Project Management 103 Basic Saw Crew Training 103 Basic Saw Crew Training
300 Rock Retaining Walls — 300 Rock Retaining Walls
306 Working with Packstock 304 Crew Leadership: Working with Volunteers
 First Aid/CPR (morning)

Are meals and lodging provided?

Dinner will be provided on Friday and Saturday.

Basic breakfast items will be provided, along with some snacks, but please plan on providing your own lunches/snacks for each day you attend. There is a small grocery store in Cascade Locks a short walk from the event location.

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 precautions are being taken regarding Covid-19?

We will be having smaller class sizes, and will offer multiple sessions of certain classes in order to limit opportunity for exposure.

We will also be forgoing large-group/PCTA-hosted meals and have created a schedule that allows for commuting if people are uncomfortable with group camping.

Find our current Covid-19 Volunteer Protocols Here. 

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 2023 event has now closed.

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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