This is a brief description of trail maintenance, for non maintainers, so they’ll have an Idea what trail maintenance is all about.

Third Saturdays and major trail work

The third Saturday of every month, the GATC invites all members and prospective members (and maybe non members who are interested) to come join in trail maintenance.

I may be weird, but this stuff is just always fun. There’s comraderie, and everyone is friendly. There is hiking, and it’s outdoors. There is skills learning every trip, no matter how much you know, you learn something every trip. And humor, this has got to be the wittiest bunch of dirt diggers there is.

Here are some of the types of projects we work on.

Treadway repair and enhancement

Usually this involves building or repairing drainage structures, as well as steps, and widening trail or correcting slipped treadway.

Shelter repair, maintenance or construction

new roof, new floor, new paint job, new shelter. Whatever it needs, we can do it.

Privy construction, improvement, or changing.

I think they’re all built out now, but some still need roofs, and they all need changing sides every year or two. These are professionally designed mouldering privy’s that worms can convert to safe compost in only a few months after changing sides. They each have two sides, so you move the toilet from one side to the other to let one side compost. They don’t stink very bad, because they are well ventilated from below. Usually this is done on special trips by the structures committee

Building new trail for relocation purposes

Sometimes we have to relocate trail to avoid sections that are getting very bad, usually because of erosion or overuse. This is one of the most fun types of trail maintenance.

Five duties of the Overseer

Some of this is prose from an email I received from my district leader. I’ve added my comments

Marking the trail,

with blazes and signs. Blazes need to be redone every two years. Do not add more blazes, as the current ones have been carefully measured and placed.

There’s plenty written elsewhere about blazing. I’ll just tell you what I do. I only repaint existing blazes, because they are in wilderness. I skin off loose paint and bark first, with my knife or a plastic putty knife. Then, I use white caulking, freehanding the 2 by 6 rectangle, sometimes smearing it into the cracks in the bark with my knife. Then I let it cure for a while, and come back and trim it neat, with my knife.

Keeping trail cleared of Brush, Limbs, and Trees

This happens every time you walk the trail. Throw, drag, or carry them off into the woods. Try not to leave it looking like a trash pile.

Cut Weeds,

grass, and any vegetation that grows into the 4 x 8 foot desired clearance.

This should be separated into two things:
  1. Cutting Weeds and

  2. Cutting Clearance

Cutting weeds

is the most miserable of all trail work. It has to be done in the heat of summer, around July 4. If you cut too early, you have to come back and cut again.

In wilderness (which is where my section is), it has to be done with a swingblade. You have to cut the high side about 3 feet back, and the low side, only cut stuff that is hanging into the trail. This helps keep the tread from slipping downhill (which it has a tendency to do).

I hike to the highest point on my section, then work downhill and south to the end of my section. usually I cut the high side, and get one of my kids to do the low side. Then I eat lunch, and hike backto the high point, and work downhill and north for the rest of the day. It is usually a 12 hour day if I get one of the kids to help me, or two 8 hour days if I work alone (which I have done twice).

You have to cut briars back also, up to 8 feet back on the high side, or in late summer, they will lean over and cross the trail.

Cutting Clearance

I work at this every time I walk my section, whether for drainage, weeds, blowdowns, blazes, or whatever. Just trim stuff that grows into the 4 foot wide by 8 foot high clearance standard. I keep clippers on my belt so they’re always accessable.

Maintaining Drainage

Clean out waterbars and ditches, dips, bleeders and other water control structures. See below for an explanation of some common drainage jargon. Most of them you have to

  1. rake out the leaves (into the woods, below the ditch, not to the end of the ditch)

  2. Move silt back up to the trail, just below the ditch

Treadway repair and enhancement

This is fun work, if you have time for it. I widen the treadway where it has gotten too narrow. Sometimes moving it uphill if it has slipped down. I dig out rocks and roots that trip people. Sometimes build a little cribbing to keep the tread from slipping


No explanation of trail maintenance could be complete without a note on drainage structures, so here you go.

Designed In Dips (for maintainance free trail)

This is just making the trail go uphill slightly for about ten feet, for each 30 or 40 feet of downhill. Where it transitions from downhill to uphill, the water has to come off. the below described drainage dip is an attempt to imitate this with 2-4 feet of uphill, but they can still fill in if not maintained.


Most people, most of the time, mean "drainage dip" when they say waterbar.

Real waterbars are logs or rocks that divert water off the trail. They don’t work. They fill in during the first few rainstorms, and the water just goes over the top. most drainage structures bult these days are really drainage dips, as described below.

Drainage Dips

You make them by digging a ditch across the trail, at a 45 degree angle, at least a foot deep, and with at least as much slope as the trail leading down to it, then all the dirt you dig out of it goes on the downhill side of the ditch, retained by a retainer log or rocks if possible. That loose dirt should be cleaned of roots and rocks, and packed down so it won’t wash away. Then, the overseer must clean the leaves out every fall and spring, and he should also shovel the silt that accumulates at the end of the ditch, back up onto the trail below the dip, and repack it behind the retainer.


written by John Chambers