Trail Skills College Course Curriculum

curriculumBecause wildfires, wind storms, floods, gravity, and vegetation growth are constant threats to the PCT, the annual maintenance and reconstruction of the trail is a never-ending and monumental undertaking. Such work, historically carried out by government trail crews, is increasingly done by hundreds of volunteers organized by the PCTA. These volunteers perform hard, physical labor so that others may safely enjoy the beauty and challenge along the trail.

To help our volunteers succeed in their trail work, PCTA collaborated with many partners to develop a Trail Skills College curriculum. It is designed for workshops to train volunteers both new and old. The curriculum is available for free for all who wish to use it, whether you are a partner working along the PCT, or working on trails around the world.

Overview (last updated: January 2019)

This introductory sampler class is intended for people brand 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 handsaw 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.

Student Field Reference

Instructor Planning Guide

Handtools for Trail Work (PDF) – February 2005

Trail Terminology (PDF) – January 2019

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, by their number, location, and size.

Student Field Reference

Instructor Planning Guide

The effects of 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” for recognizing tread erosion patterns. Hands-on practice removing slough and berm, and effective cleaning and maintenance of existing water bars and drain dips.

Student Field Reference

Instructor Planning Guide

Are you interested in helping certified sawyers to clear trails, but don’t have much experience working with or around saws? Regardless if you aim to become a certified sawyer yourself, learning to be a saw crew member is an important place to start and takes know-how to do safely. 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.

Basic Saw Crew Training is an introductory class and does not include a certification. Information about the Sawyer Certification process can be found by clicking here!

Student Field Reference

Instructor Planning Guide

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. 

Student Field Reference

Instructor Planning Guide

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.

Student Field Reference

Instructor Planning Guide

Powerpoint – 30MB – March 2019

Intended for someone who has taken 102 Tread and 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.

Student Field Reference

Instructor Planning Guide

Intended for someone who has taken 201 Drainage Design and Drain Dips and/or has considerable experience doing drainage work. Where earthen rolling drain dips are not feasible, drainage features are sometimes armored using rock or log. Learn contemporary techniques to build water bars and checks with both rock and log. The class will include a review of outdated techniques, and how to convert “old school” waterbars to a more effective design.

Student Field Reference

Instructor Planning Guide

For students aiming to help pull off multi-day trips in the backcountry or frontcountry. Whether your group will be large or small, this course provides helpful tips on nutrition, food planning, and shopping, setting up a field kitchen, what to bring, and tips for cooking with trail crews. It also covers best practices for food storage and sanitation at camp. No prior experience is necessary, although familiarity with typical work parties and basic kitchen equipment will be helpful.

Student Field Reference and Instructor Planning Guide 

Food Survey (Word | PDF) – January 2019

Menu Plan (Excel | PDF) – January 2019

Recipes for Trail Crews (Word | PDF) – March 2019

Serving Size Guide (Word | PDF) – January 2019

Trail Crew Chore Chart (Excel | PDF) – April 2017

Backcountry Nutrition Myths & Facts – Quiz & Answers (WordPDF) – January 2019

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)

Student Field Reference

Instructor Planning Guide

Learn how to put an abandoned campsite or section of trail to bed so that it returns to nature without erosion. Some call this “Zen and the art of wilderness gardening”, or trail magic because if done properly, the old trail disappears. Includes transplanting, seed collection, and rock placements.

Student Field Reference

Instructor Planning Guide

Understand sign specifications and learn how to install signs and keep proper records in conjunction with land managers. Learn about agency standards for signs. Making needed signs is very gratifying, though navigating the Forest Service sign manual requires special attention to detail.

Student Field Reference

Instructor Planning Guide 

Trail Sign Examples (Powerpoint) – March 2019

Reassurance Markers (Word | PDF )- January 2019

TRACS Sign Form (Excel | PDF ) – March 2011

Learn the fundamentals of rock construction, including an emphasis on effective and safe use of rock bars– the critical tool for all rock work. We’ll tackle basic rock placement techniques for walls to last the ages. Recommended after taking 203 or equivalent experience.

Student Field Reference 

Instructor Planning Guide

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 & Tool Talks; Inclusive Leadership & Emotional Intelligence, Practical Experience Leading Trail Crews.

Student Field Reference and Instructor Planning Guide

Problem Resolution

Leadership Challenge

Motivation Recognition

Multi-day projects in the backcountry may seem like an overwhelming burden because of all the food, tools, and gear needed—that is—unless we have the assistance of pack animals. Thankfully, the PCTA has many talented packer friends willing to help. 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.

Student Field Reference

Instructor Planning Guide

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.

Student Field Reference and Instructor Planning Guide

 

A grant from REI funded the initial development of this curriculum. The PCTA worked with U.S. Forest Service Trails Specialist John Schubert to write these documents. They are free to be copied provided the PCTA and John Schubert are acknowledged as the source. Drawings from publications of The Student Conservation Association, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, U.S. Forest Service, and IMBA are used with permission.

The referenced forms contained within the curriculum can be found on our crew leader page.

If you have questions, suggestions or corrections on the PCTA Trail Skills curriculum, please email Landon Welsh at [email protected].

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