Now that spring is here and the NEPA is behind us, we're getting a lot of pre-work done before we hit the ground on the first segment of trail. Job #1 as far as I'm concerned - continue tweaking to figure out how to get this trail built for the least amount of money possible. We're not willing to sacrifice quality, obviously - for a whole raft of reasons. But there are alternatives out there to hand-built trail, and we're looking hard at every alternative that could be suitable for this project.
One of the more interesting prospects is the idea of using draft animals to do some of the heavy work. The mule pulls along a piece of equipment that's kind of a cross between a plow and a box scraper, making the initial ground cut for the trail route. Hand crews then follow and finish with the tread. The process improves the efficiency by about half over hand-crew-only construction, thus reducing the amount of time needed and, obviously, the amount of money spent.
There's evidence that many of the old trails around here were built using this technique. Gerry Miller, a former Forest Service employee now with the NRCS (and Northeastern Nevada Stewardship Group) tells me that you can see one of these old trailbuilders rusting along an old trail in the Overland Pass area. Pretty cool if you ask me.
Another option that might work for us is using trail excavators - essentially a very small backhoe-looking thing to do that initial cut. One of these excavators increases the efficiency significantly from even the draft animal method. The nice thing about the excavators is that they, too, will leave only a 24" tread - a very important element for this project, as a wider tread will invite incursion by ATV users. Since this is a non-motorized trail it's important that we keep the tread very narrow.
We have significant side slopes for the length of the project - this is big country - and these techniques may or may not work for us. We have some professional trail builders looking at the project, though - if we all think it would work, they'll work with our Nevada Conservation Corps crews and our volunteers to get this thing built in the most efficient, cost-effective way possible.
My personal goal is to save enough money on this first segment to give us real seed money for getting the second segment rolling. With the economic situation the way it is, we're going to have to work even harder to come up with funding for this project. We need to be able to demonstrate to the granting agencies that we're building very high-quality trail - as efficiently as humanly possible.
Right now we have an on-the-ground meeting set for May 19-20 to get the trail centerline set. Once that's in, we'll be looking for volunteer help with the limbing/brushing that will need to be done. Watch this space.