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  • Writer's pictureRandy Martin

Our Trail Building Process Explained

While it may appear that trail construction is simple "landscaping", this is not the case. Trail building is both art and science. The art part is augmenting the natural beauty and giving the user a sense of flow. While building a trail is not “rocket” science, it is the science of solving multiple terrain challenges and making the trail last for decades.

Meandering trail through gnarly brush

Every trail and property owner is unique and it is important to Trailscape to honor the land and the people who reside on it. We take previously impassible and inaccessible land and turn it into an adventure for all.

We get inquiries about how the trail building process works and since many have not thought about owning a private trail experience on their land, we thought this would be an opportune time to share the steps from start to finish.

Step 1: Contact Us

Most of our clients are referrals from previous satisfied clients. While others find us online. No matter how we are found, the process begins the same, with a conversation. These conversations help us to customize the trail to the needs of the client. It’s important for us to know the age, activity level, types of trail uses, family make up by age, and adrenaline thresholds. In addition to our talk, we locate the property in “CalTopo” to find the property lines and then transfer those property lines to Google Earth. In doing this, it gives us an overview of the land with topographic lines. It is the combination of our conversation, the client's preferences, as well as the opportunities and constraints of the land, we create an initial concept. This first step allows us to quantify distances, number of turns, estimation of brush, clearing, etc. to create a preliminary plan.

Map of trails

Step 2: Preliminary Plan & Estimate

From this preliminary plan, we are able to create an initial estimate that connects to the proposed scope. This leads us to a critical point in the conversation where we work with the client's to adjust the scope according to their desires. Some clients request to add more trail while others cut back on mileage. We have also built legacy plans for clients where they split their build into 2-4 sections and continually add on to their existing trail.

Following adjustments, Trailscape then prepares a construction agreement and sends it securely via DocuSign for signature.

Once the agreement has been signed, we work to give an estimate of when we can begin the build. Due to weather conditions outside of our control, we typically do not schedule specific dates for a start. This is because of heavy rains resulting in atmospheric rivers, cold spells, and snow can make it difficult to predict the exact duration of jobs. Typically when it is early in the season, we can usually get to the job within a couple of weeks. However, we do tend to backlog somewhere between a month and four months.

Step 3: Flag & Build Trail

Now we're ready to plan! Our trail builders will start by walking the land for an understanding of steepness of slopes, banks, creek, crossings, forest density, etc. This helps to truly understand the opportunities and constraints of the land that may not have been visible in Google Earth.

Check out this video from Erik Allen, in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, where he's walking a client's property to ensure the best possible experience. On his hike, he finds a spectacular view of the Sutter Buttes. He determines to meander the trail in a way that capitalizes on that experience. This is why it is so important to get a lay of the land.

After reconnaissance, we flag the trail and then use GPS tracking to begin applying the concept to the ground while leaving flagging behind for the excavation equipment to follow. This GPS tracking is sent to the Trailscape office where we go back over the plan and see if there are adjustments to the plan and pricing based on our findings in the field. Generally speaking, our contract estimates are typically accurate. Clients can expect a plus or minus of about 10% to 15% once we get to this point. It is as common for the estimate to go down as it is to go up.

After finalization of all of the details, we're ready to build! There three phases to the build:

1.) Pre-clearing: We prefer to pre-clear only a couple hundred feet above the machine so that if the route needs to change, there is minimal disruption to the landscape.

2.) Trail construction: If we build, the dozer will make an initial rough cut, then cut the upper slope, then push off the down, slope, berm, and drag the trail in a series of laps. If we use an excavator the process is different where more work is done on the initial pass followed by a cleanup pass. You can see the process in this quick time lapse video below. Then after mastication (clearing of the brush on either side of the trail) our trail builders will trim, tree, branches, etc.

3.) The Finish: The finish process is done with a large broom, dragged behind the quad motorcycle, which leaves a beautiful path.

Depending upon the weather, if there is enough moisture present, we will also use a ride on a compactor to stamp down the trail a bit more. This provides another layer of final finish on the trail. In addition, this compaction adds durability and minimizes weed growth which is effective in winter and spring months.

Our final walk through is done with the client. We educate on the trail's features and discuss maintenance options. Some of our clients choose to do the task of trail maintenance on their own, while others hire our in-house team to take care of it year round. General upkeep ensures the longevity of the trail experience.

Step 4: Enjoy!

We've now come to the part we are truly passionate about, our client's enjoying their beautiful custom trail. In fact, we are addicted to the grins of gratitude that we receive from our clients when they no longer have to imagine access to beautiful places because they can experience it directly every day. Our client's investment in their land and family through trails allow for an experiential legacy for their families to experience for generations.

Are You Ready To Build Your Own Trail?

Give us a call at (530) 852-5155, email or fill out this quick form and we will get in touch with you to schedule our initial conversation.

Trailscape Crew

Randy Martin Expert & Exclusive California Trail Builder Hundreds of Miles of Trails Designed and Constructed for Private Land Owners


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