Walt Cook E-News
by Benji on October 5th, 2020

Reasons for a Trail

A foot trail must have a reason for being.  No one builds foot trails merely for the enjoyment of building one, although building a trail can be satisfying in three ways.  One, a trail builder, should imagine the future user enjoying a walk or hike on it.  Two, most trails, as they are being built, provide a challenge to the builder – getting through or around a physical obstacle.  Solving the challenge can be a source of pride to the builder.  Three, building a trail requires the builder to be outdoors, usually in an attractive natural environment.  One may plan a trail while sitting at a desk and studying a map, but ultimately one must get out on the site, in the fresh air, and away from the noise of the developed word.

So let’s assume there is a reason; the trail will be useful, and used, once it is finished and ready to be walked on. Let’s assume there’s a reason many people enjoy walking on unpaved trails, and will go out of their way to do so.

Another reason for making a foot trail is to introduce people to the natural environment, to ease their reluctance to get into nature.  A good trail doesn’t require a person to actually touch nature, or allow nature to touch them.  In other words, it will reduce or alleviate their learned fear of the unknown.

A third reason for using a foot trail can be a result of reason number two.  New hikers will have learned that the natural environment is not only safe but very interesting and enjoyable for itself.  Many people are curious about the unknown, and always wonder what they will see around the next bend.  If they find a kind of mushroom they had never seen before, or any unfamiliar plant or rock formation, that discovery is a source of enjoyment that “makes their day”.

A fourth reason to use a foot trail is for physical exercise.  The recent restrictions on our normal activities have brought out very visible reasons for walking.  Many people are out walking for exercise in their local neighborhoods, (although on paved streets).  I will borrow the words on a T-shirt I bought at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, near Mansfield (a great place to hike on all dirt trails).  I think the American Hiking Society is probably responsible for the idea.  The T-shirt reads:

“HIKING – MOTHER NATURE’S MIRACLE MEDICINE
Refreshing, Rejuvenating, Restorative
Alleviates: Stress, Melancholy, Boredom, Irritability, Sleeplessness, Pallor, Loss of Vitality, Tedium, Listlessness, Discontent, Bad Temper, and Much More.
USE GENEROUSLY”
Walt Cook is a founding board member of ORLT who served on the board for 26 years and donated ORLT’s first conservation easement, protecting 42 acres along the Middle Oconee River.  Walt, a retired UGA Forestry School professor and co-founder of the Sandy Creek Nature Center, was head of the Benton MacKaye Trail Association maintenance in Georgia for 5 years, and maintained his own section of the trail for 17 years.  He stopped that work in 2014 to become a trail maintainer at the Georgia Botanical Garden in Athens.  Walt estimates that in his 48 years of trail building he has built over 100 trails, including private trails, trails for local parks, and a trail at the only Revolutionary battlefield in Georgia.


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2 Comments

Clint - October 5th, 2020 at 9:09 PM
Thanks for your years of work, Walt, and for your perspectives in this article. Few moments in a student's life are as anxiety-inducing as the moment when a stake is put in the ground at the end of an orienteering exercise, awaiting Professor Cook's measuring tape.
Gary Crider - October 5th, 2020 at 10:28 PM
Loved "Reasons for a Trail." Looking forward to more Walt Cook E-News!
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