Written by Joey Sirois, Outdoor Studies Human Impacts
Throughout my childhood my family would work as host campers in New England. My infamous uncle Ray was always there. He’d bring fireworks, cook amazing food, and would tell us the most convincing stories. The story I remember the best is the story of Drag Foot. Drag Foot is a sasquatch like creature that was known for having a humungous foot! The tale was that hunters tried to catch Drag Foot in the 1600’s, attempting to shoot him with arrows but only hitting one of his feet. In turn, his foot grew calloused and gnarled, and he could only move it by dragging it along with him throughout the forest. This is how, as I was told at that age of seven, how trails were made. Little did I know that later in my life I’d go on to be a trail builder, and I’d learn very quickly that Drag Foot probably didn’t exist.
How do you think trails are made? Many people think a well-maintained trail is just something that has always been there. I’ve heard some folks say they think God was the one that made it. People usually don’t notice a trail unless there is something wrong with it, like erosion or lots of mud. Someone once told me that “good trail work should go unnoticed”, which was not something my ego at the age of twenty enjoyed hearing. It makes sense, I don’t really notice a road unless it has potholes in it. Now after eight years of creating trails, I’ll advocate that people should have a greater awareness of the trails they’re on and who makes them and whose land it may be on.
Why does it matter for hikers to think about how this work is done? Well, it’s not Drag Foot creating these trails, it’s a crew of hardworking people that put a whole summer’s time into creating/maintaining the trails. Imagine a scene from the 1960’s film Cool Hand Luke, inmates hammering away smashing big rocks into smaller rocks for hours (without the ball and chains). Without people removing hazardous trees from the trail or keeping the path from falling apart, the trails wouldn’t be as easy to access. I love having green spaces to visit, it’s something I think we get a lot out of and are worth maintaining and conserving. So, when you start your next journey into the forest or mountains, try researching whose land you will be adventuring on. My professor once told me that all land is native land. It’s always worth learning more about the land you’re on, who it used to belong to, and who runs it now. Perhaps it’s maintained by a small non-profit and could use some donations or help. And if you’re feeling up for a challenge, see if there are any volunteer opportunities to work on your local trail systems. Maybe lending a hand will “drag” you down a trail you never knew you wanted to experience.