Do you remember the winter storms of 1996? Scott Semans does. During that seasonably snowy period stamped in Pacific Northwest history, Semans was out hiking on Cougar Mountain and it was thus that he first caught on to the art of trailwork. “I saw folks out with bow saws clearing trails, so I joined in and have never stopped since.” Although says Semans, “I can’t hike anymore.”
Let’s back up and put that into context: explains Semans, “I can’t hike anymore [because] I constantly stop and figure fixes for trail problems, or look at somebody else’s trail work and analyze it.” Semans is the Trailwork Volunteer Coordinator for the Issaquah Alps Trails Club (IATC). He has been working with IATC since 1998 and has been on the IATC Board since 2000. “[There’s] something about being out in nature and the sense of accomplishment at the end of the day when I can look down and see a change.” For Semans, he characterizes a hard day’s work as a well needed contrast to his “totally indoor, non-physical” work as a coin dealer; something he has been doing since high school.
At first glance, Semans’ comparison of the two tracks of his life seems fair. But in other respects the two, the trails and the coins, they parallel: both necessitate experience and confidence of judgment, technique, patience, a careful eye, ability to assess details, an appreciation of perfection, and, of course, grading – “seeing what lasts.”
“Seeing what lasts,” reflects Semans on trailwork “that’s the biggest and best education.”
One can see that the pride he takes in coin collecting traipses over to his love of trailwork. Semans says he loves to design new trails that “highlight the best features of a region and get people around comfortably without drawing notice to the trail itself. “ Semans’ aspirations of the perfect trail are elusive though; it is traditionally the “hurricane work” by novice volunteers on which trailwork groups depend.
This kind of easily teachable trailwork is mostly a lot of “soil tossing” says Semans. But, given that an estimated 75 to 90 percent of trailworkers are one-and-done volunteers, it makes sense that new volunteers are taught just the basics before getting their hands dirty. After this basic clearing and soil movement are done, Semans enjoys the “finish and landscape” work such as “grade-averaging, fern replanting and corridor trimming,” which enhance the appearance of the trail.
Currently, IATC’s main activities are on the Cougar Mountain Precipice region on the north side of the park, specifically the Big Tree Ridge Trail. (see map just east of Newport Way/SR-900); and on the interior of Tiger Mountain on the “TMT” where IATC is working to “de-necklace the trail.” Semans explains, “over time the trail drops down the slope between anchor trees, creating a necklace-like effect, so we are cutting it higher, above the anchor trees, and widening the trail.”
This rebuilding of the TMT is being done in commemoration of the late Bill Longwell, a founding member of IATC. With Mr. Longwell’s passing, the torch was passed to Semans, and to fellow trail enthusiast Ed Vervoort and other long-time assistants of Longwell, to maintain the Issaquah Alps area trails. Most days, laments Semans, it is just him and Ed and fewer than a handful of volunteers.
Although trailrunners might be most familiar with IATC for its trailwork, Semans gives credit to IATC’s guided hikes program for having the greatest impact. By way of “getting people out there to enjoy nature,” IATC gets a boost in trail advocacy for open space.
While Semans encourages attending one of the trailwork parties (scheduled every weekend day through September), he affirms that trail users are allowed to do “minor” work outside of, say IATC or WTA work parties. The Department of Natural Resources frowns on doing trailwork outside of sanctioned work parties, however, non-soil disturbing work such as tossing sticks or limbs off the trail, or hand-sawing small windfallen trees or trail-intruding berry bushes is quietly encouraged. Sometimes people can have good intentions, but do more harm than good, so the IATC attempts, as Semans puts it, to be the “eyes on the ground.”
What can a well-intentioned trailrunner best do to advocate for the trails then? Besides committing time to trailwork, runners are encouraged to attend IATC’s quarterly board meetings, or through more “traditional” monetary support by becoming an IATC member.