Trail Building with Kids

By Dominique Larocque

Since the Subaru/IMBA Trail Care Crew visit to Ottawa in 2002, IMBA's Rules of the Trails and key trail building concepts have become an integral part of the mountain bike summer camp experience and any hiking/biking related activities that I've taught at my center. LaRocca XC Mountain Bike School, the largest in Eastern Canada, teaches and inspires 500 kids/teens/women per year to embrace IMBA and I am so excited to now have my own center to showcase IMBA's work across Canada.

It is so exciting to hear my kids say: "Can we go trail building now?" Whether it is picking up garbage on the trail, envisioning new lines, armouring sections, or digging water escapes, the kids eat it up.

What follows are 10 key points to remember when creating outdoor programs which include trail building:

  1. Follow the KISS Principle: Keep It Simple Stupid! Present the key elements of sustainable trail building and go from there. Don't overwhelm your students by forgetting how long it took you to have these key elements become second nature.
  2. Don't underestimate the mind of a child. I am always amazed at how kids and teens grasp the IMBA concepts quickly.
  3. Mistakes done while trail building are OK and often become the prerequisite to better workmanship and leadership down the trail.
  4. When working with kids and teens, have the young kids ride sections of trail as the older ones work on the trail. To witness children and teenagers work together on a trail remains the highlight of my summers.
  5. Respect shamanic time. Linear timeline in trail building will only frustrate you. A trail is never complete. Accept that fact and smile. Know when to quit!
  6. If you have a co-ed group, you may want to separate a women's group and a men's group. The synergy created by dividing the genders has often created better results.
  7. Make sure to bring some great food and beverages along the way. Trail Building is a calorie burner and "mini-breaks" with awesome food is what keeps a crew motivated. Building a fire for lunch time or bringing a BBQ is always a big plus!
  8. Don't cancel a trail building day because of rain. Torrential downpours are another thing but cloudy days with intermittent showers are often the best days to trailbuild in the summer. Roots are also easier to "Pulaski" out of wet terrain.
  9. Always bring bug spray, garbage bags (there is always litter to be found) and a watch to keep track of time. It is so easy to forget time when trail building and your body will make sure to point out to you that you did too much too soon! Respect the gradual process involved to reduce injuries.
  10. Teach your kids and teens good work habits right from the start. Have them sign in and out the tools they take to increase the sense of responsibility and prevent tools forgotten in the woods.