Paying My Dues: Preserving the Trail for Future Hikers

boy crawling out of a dirt tunnel

As alluded to in a previous post, I got an early start in the woods, more specifically in earthworks—working with cinder blocks, logs, rocks, and sod—building dams, forts, and trails. My sister shared this photo with me the other day, to remind me of my roots, after I shared a photo of the days work, and that inspired this post.

Twenty years ago, I volunteered at Hoyt Arboretum in Portland, Oregon, as a weekend tour guide, as well as helping with trail restoration and invasive species control. Wishing to do contribute locally, I contacted the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and was thrilled accept an invitation to volunteer on Nounou (Sleeping Giant), and work with interns from KUPU Hawai`i Youth Conservation Corps. It’s the least I could do since I used these trails as if the mountain was my own front yard.

The project was nearly finished by the time I joined the team, and they had done some really awesome work, including cuts and fills, abutments, diversion trenches, retaining walls, and especially blocking “shortcuts” using fallen trees and brush which the crew removed from the trail. Some of these “shortcuts” had been used so heavily that it was often difficult to tell whether erosion brought about the shortcut or if overuse had actually caused the severe erosion observed in several places.

In some cases, only minor intervention was necessary to preserve the trail. Elsewhere, a little structure had to be added to stabilize the grade and/or simplify the ascent or descent for hikers. In the area shown below, what had been the trail was simply peeling off the slope, so the crew added poles, anchored with steel rebar, to retain what soil remained and channel some of the runoff so that the fill was less likely to wash away with the next rain.

downhill trail

Stabilizing Rail

Occasionally, erosion was so extreme that alternate diversion trenches as well as extensive structure and back-fill were required to restore the trail in cases of total washout. The last time I hiked the East Trail, this was an area I had to vault across or scramble through clinging to the red dirt wall at right with my bare hands because my chin was at about the same level as the restored trail. As you can see, diversion trenches were dug well above the former pit.

backfilled trail

Diversion Trench, Abutment, and Back-fill

Being the steepest approach to the summit, this trail frequently winds around or runs along solid vertical faces that do not lend themselves to alteration. The retaining wall shown below was cut from the stone face above it. I recall this switchback from earlier treks as a smooth blend that was slippery in all weather and reminded me of trying to climb up a spoon. At the left corner, it’s still a little slick, but thanks to the Division of Forestry and Wildlife and the Hawai’i Youth Conservation Corps, that “spoon” is much shorter and narrower.

a cut-and-fill retaining wall

Cut-And-Fill Retaining Wall

A few of the interns did some really nice work in stone just up the trail from where I was working with the everyone else on a series of back-filled abutments, retaining walls. Regrettably, I forgot to photograph the stonework, but wanted to share the photo of the area where I made a contribution. Shown below are two levels of log abutment (a third level lies below left), and a rock retaining wall through the center of this photo to the white rock above center.

abutment and rock wall

Split-Level Abutments, Back-fill, and Stone Retaining Wall

Before I could get there the next day, the crew finished another abutment and back-fill further down the trail, and afterward, a few interns who had never completed the hike were taken on a guided tour to the summit. Meanwhile, I look forward to working on Nounou again in September.

6 thoughts on “Paying My Dues: Preserving the Trail for Future Hikers

  1. Vivian says:

    I didn’t realize there was so much involved in maintaining the trails. I live in flat Florida and a lot of our trails are above the water and built by the local government. Others are just foot paths in the parks. We also have the rails to trails system but that is also done and maintained by local government.

    It’s nice to see people volunteer to do so much hard work especially young people. Hawaii must be a great place to live.


    • Brett says:

      ‘Tis (…a great place to live). I am familiar with rails to trails, and lived in Key West for two years, so I can relate to flatland. We called the bridges between the keys mountains; fondly recall bicycling to work via Mt. Stock Island and Mt. Boca Chica. And for clarification, the interns from Hawai’i Youth Conservation Corps are paid, while the crewleaders representing the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) and I were the volunteers.


  2. Libby says:

    What a great way to plug into the local community!

    My son has done volunteer trail maintenance for the Appalachian Mountain Club in the Mount Washington vicinity for the past four summers. They run an excellent youth program ranging from one week to four weeks. He LOVED being a “mountain” man and one day wants to be a through hiker.

    Do you ever slip and fall on your hikes? I would have been flat on my a** in the “spoon” area you described. Do you have any trouble getting the red Hawaiian dirt out of clothes?


    • Brett says:

      As a matter of fact, I have slipped a thousand times, and fallen at least once every few weeks, but the falls are fewer and less severe the more I hike.

      Of course that red dirt easily comes out when washed with other clothing, so whenever I get slathered in it, I soak my clothes in a bucket overnight and wash them separately from the rest. It’s about the same as humus and clays on the AT; moss on the PCT.


  3. steven thomas says:

    HI Brett. My wife and I along with our 7 year old daughter, 4 year old son, and 3 year old daughter hiked part of this trail yesterday. We are from Cleveland, but my wife and I have been coming to vacation on Kauai about every 2 years for the last 10 years. We all appreciated the work that went into maintaining the trail. Thank you!

    We are in the last week of a 6 week stay on the island as part of a sabbatical program with my work. It is going to be really hard to return to the mainland.

    I stumbled upon this blog yesterday and found it great to read about family life on Kauai. The positivity that is projected from the posts is inspiring. Anyway I just wanted to let you know we appreciated the trail and you and your wife’s posts.


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