Dennis Houghton will present a talk Thursday titled “Natural Design.” (Maureen McGarry — Contributed)
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On a crisp fall morning in the Arcata Community Forest, a group of Volunteer Trail Stewards gather around coffee and cookies to find out what their trail-building tasks are for the day. Though some are younger community members or college students, most of the regulars in this group are 55 or older and are members of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program of the Area 1 Agency on Aging. Many have been showing up for several years, while others are there for the first time. Supervised by city staff, all are prepared to work hard throughout the morning to maintain and develop the well-known and well-used trail system enjoyed by hikers, runners, bikers and horseback riders in this unique city park.

Designing and building trails is more than just digging out a path. Because of multiple users, this process requires a careful study of the environment and serious structural considerations, especially along slopes and across waterways.

This Thursday, trail enthusiasts will have an opportunity to learn more about trail construction at a presentation by expert designer and builder Dennis Houghton. He will present “Natural Design,” an introduction to the art and science of sustainable trail-building, at the D Street Neighborhood Center in Arcata. There will be a fish taco dinner at 5 p.m. The talk begins at 6:30 p.m. Reservations are required.

“I hope to convey information on design principles, trail layout and construction,” said Houghton. “The science aspect is the engineering that goes into building trails. The style of what we are doing is not meant to be definitive. We cater to the design principles that apply to the redwood region, using the materials around us. We use logs and milled redwood, whereas in the Trinity Alps, we would use granite boulders and other native materials that exist there. If you can walk away from a project and make it look like it was always there, that is what we strive for.”

Houghton is also the volunteer coordinator for the Eureka Waterfront Trail North. He points out that volunteers have played a crucial part in the development of, and support for, trail systems throughout Humboldt County.

“Having worked with a variety of user groups, students, mountain bikers, equestrians, and hikers throughout the years, it is the RSVP volunteers that have been the most consistent in helping out,” he said.

The value of volunteer hours is measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics each year. The 2017 established rate for the value of volunteer time (including all benefits) is $29.09 per hour. Last year, the Volunteer Trail Stewards throughout Humboldt County gave almost $50,000 worth of time and effort to help build and maintain miles of trails that the community uses.

“I feel like there is something to be said for 60 being the new 50 and 70 being the new 60,” said Rees Hughes of the Humboldt Trails Council.  “Many of us are in much better physical condition than our grandparents were at this age. It has become much more important for seniors to be part of outdoor activities.”

Hughes feels that it is increasingly a priority for retired and older Americans who love being outdoors to have opportunities available to make a difference.

“Volunteering to build and maintain trails enhances the quality of life of everybody on the North Coast, but particularly for seniors who want to be outdoors,” Hughes said.

Houghton added: “People contributing their time and effort makes for a healthier community.”

Space is still available to sign up for the trail-building presentation Thursday. Email vcor@a1aa.org, or call 707-630-5081 to reserve a seat. More info about VTS can be found at humtrails.org/vts.

Maureen McGarry is the project director for RSVP/VCOR, a program of the Area 1 Agency on Aging.

 

 

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