Many Hands and a Mini-Ex

April 16, 2022

On a weekend in March after the spring thaw, a mini excavator rolled along dutifully laying out the path soon to be known as the Granite Trail at Waikiki Springs Nature Preserve. It clamored through the woods noisily and unforgivingly as if to say, it comes with the territory! But to the dedicated volunteer approaching 70 hours at the helm of the machine, the noise was nothing more than the rhythmic tune of trail building.  

The saying goes many hands make light work but even so, some projects can use a head start. The new trails put in at Waikiki Springs found that boost from Townshend Cellar generously lending the Conservancy the use of their mini excavator, and the time and dedication of Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance: East Chapter (“Evergreen East”) volunteer, Harley Dobson.  A community partnership between Evergreen East and Townshend Cellar blossomed in the spring of 2019 when the owners of Townshend Cellar wanted to contribute to the mountain bike club’s trail-building efforts. Both parties recognized the mutual benefits of owning a mini excavator, so Townshend Cellar bought the machine. A machine that would have cost Evergreen East $17,000 a year on rental fees, according to President Chris Conley. “It’s one of the greatest donations as far as building trails go,” Chris said. 

The Waikiki Springs trail system was designed by the conservancy’s Community Conservation Program Manager, Todd Dunfield. Todd scouted on foot and flagged the best possible route to break ground. He laid out the trails with mindfulness to protect habitat and maintain the integrity of the land, followed by thoughtful consideration for the user experience of hikers and bikers. “Logging adversely affected the property, and our staff and volunteers are putting in a fair amount of time now to create a nature preserve that will meet the needs of the community and wildlife,” Todd said.

Finally came time to move dirt. Michael Townshend delivered the mini-ex to Waikiki Springs multiple times and offered support throughout the project. Harley and the machine cleared reluctant roots and obstinate rocks infamously known to take an “all hands on deck” approach with relative ease so enthusiastic volunteers donning shovels and macleods could begin fine-tuning the new trail. Without Townshend Cellar, and Harley, on behalf of Evergreen East, work that may have otherwise taken all field season to tackle by hand was completed in a cumulative 11 days. 

Harley’s weekends spent carefully carving out trails are fueled by his personal recreation pursuits. As an avid mountain biker, he pays attention to what his favorite trails look and feel like and tries to replicate them, while also noting things like water management to ensure trails are sustainably built. Of course, there is some personality thrown into the mix. “You kind of feel like an artist when you’re building trail,” Harley says, “and every trail builder is different in how they interpret it. It’s all mild variations of the same initial plan and with the same end goal in mind. It’s like those paint studios where everyone paints the same picture, but they all end up looking slightly different.” Every now and then out at Waikiki, he cut the machine off to have a conversation with a hiker. He expressed that trail building is work he loves doing, and that “it’s fun creating something people in our community can enjoy forever.”

In recognizing that a well-built trail should function for more than one user group, Harley volunteered with Washington Trails Association to better understand trail use from a hiker’s point of view. “It’s about blending perspectives of all trail-user groups involved,” he shares. “Understanding how a hiker views a trail will help us build routes that won’t encourage cutting a switchback. WTA builds trails slightly different, compared to Spokane Mountaineers, compared to a mountain bike group, and we all learn from each other.” This community-minded approach shared by the Evergreen East volunteer and Townshend Cellar’s unstinted loaning out of their mini-ex has resulted in some of Spokane’s most popular recreation trails at areas like Mica Peak and Beacon Hill, and now the Aster and Granite Trails at Waikiki Springs.

Thank you to Townshend Cellar and Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance: East Chapter!