In May 2019, Southwest Trail Solutions went national, designing a hiking trail for a resort near Puerto Vallarta and training local laborers in trail construction.

While a very different environment – temperate jungle – challenged us, the basic principles of design and construction apply. Giant ficus trees became the positive control point of choice, and instinct and experience were needed to compensate for visibility impeded by dense foliage – a sharp machete is a must in the jungle. Heat, humidity, insects and biting ants gave us plenty to think about, but the ability to cut a section of liana and drink water from its center, or lop the top off a coconut and drink



Bardas y Bancos

A crew of five local laborers became familiar with crib wall (barda) and bench (banco) construction, water management and aesthetics in the week we were there. Their willingness to learn and to work hard has given them a skill they can employ on other trail projects in a region that continues to develop tourism infrastructure.


Trail Design Tips

January 2019

“That would be the easy way, but it wouldn’t be the cowboy way.”

— Ranger Doug, Riders in the Sky

Design trails with an eye for minimizing construction costs, but not at the expense of sustainability or aesthetics. In trail design, assume you have only one chance to get it right, because coming back for a reroute is rarely an option.

February 2019

“Don’t be seduced by freebies.”

–Joey Klein, IMBA Trail Solutions (when he was on the IMBA Trail Care Crew in 1999)

Game trails, social trails, rock ledges – all of these may be incorporated, but be careful they don’t lead you away from, or cause you to miss, opportunities for better sustainable routes or points of interest.

March 2019

First You Build

Designing trail without substantial construction experience may be possible, but knowledge of what can be built, how it can be built, and if an alternative route might be less challenging to builders can only come with sweat equity.

April 2019

Machine or Hand?

Machine building requires a different approach to design, both in terms of what machines can do and what they can’t. It’s important to know which method of construction will be used before ground truthing. (And in some cases, trails will use both methods if the terrain so dictates)

May 2019

“When you do a poor job of trail design you are visiting headaches on
future generations.”
–Terry Bell, United State Forest Service, Mt. Hood Ranger District, 1995

Anybody who has gone back time and again to repair the same washed out or cupped tread has experienced such headaches. Let your design produce only smiles.

June 2019

A clinometer is helpful, but only to an extent – and at its best it’s not particularly accurate, especially at longer distances.

Grade is only one part of the sustainability formula. What is the soil type? Is it rocky? How far down the slope is the trail? These are just a few questions you need to factor in when determining what grade is appropriate. Maximum grade can be near vertical on solid rock, closer to 3% on a slope of decomposed granite.


Pima County

Mark has been a part-time trails program coordinator for Pima County Natural Resources, Parks & Recreation (NRPR) since 2006. During that period he took the lead in numerous trail projects, including designing the Sweetwater and Robles Trails Parks, reroutes/new trails in Tucson Mountain Park, The McKenzie Ranch Mountain Bike Competitive Course, the Hohokam Trail (mostly conceptual).

Neil moved from the Town of Marana to Pima County, becoming a full-time trails program coordinator in October 2017. Since joining Pima County, Neil has played instrumental roles in all trail design and construction efforts.

For machine building projects, Mark operates the NRPR SWECO 480 trail dozer, and Neil operates a mini excavator. The move to mechanized trail construction in 2017 has greatly increased trail construction productivity, from five miles a year using volunteers to 15-20 miles.

Caliente, Nevada

In the fall of 2017, Neil and Mark designed a 24.5-mile shuttle route as part of a greater mountain bike destination system near the town of Caliente, in the Great Basin about two hours north of Las Vegas.

Working with project lead, American Conservation Corps, we developed a route descending from just below the lookout at Ella Mountain, with connection points to Kershaw-Ryan State Park and the newly completed Barnes Canyon trails.

The route will allow shuttle connections to the top, where mountain bikers will encounter technically challenging terrain and enjoy spectacular views. Two lower road access points provide fast, flowy rides through piñon/juniper forest to the bottom.






Superior Arizona

Southwest Trails Solution began 2018 with an exciting new project, helping develop a new trail system in the Picketpost Mountain area, south of the town of Superior. Project lead, Westland Resources, Inc., is working with Resolution Copper and the Superior Recreation Users Group (RUG) to prepare a plan to submit to the Tonto National Forest.

The rugged and spectacular beauty of the area provided amazing opportunities, along with serious challenges posed by the terrain. Utilizing a team approach, Neil and Mark were joined by trail experts Chad Brown, Sirena Dufault, Scott Morris, Evan Pilling and Zach McDonald, to cover the rugged, rocky terrain as thoroughly as possible.


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