Trail-building, one volunteer at a time |

Trail-building, one volunteer at a time

Lindsey RhynardSusan Sheffield with the Truckee Donner Land Trust, distributes foresters axes and fire tools to volunteers on Sunday. The group added 150 feet to the trail.

Building the loop one volunteer at a time, work on the Donner Rim Trail entered its seventh construction season last Sunday.

A group of nine volunteers and crew leader Susan Sheffield of the Truckee Donner Land Trust (TDLT) added another 150 feet or so last weekend to a system that will eventually total more than 25 miles on the ridges above Donner Lake.

“It’s a beautiful place to work and it’s also very gratifying,” said Sheffield, the Donner Lake Rim Trail coordinator for the land trust. “You go up to a hillside where there is nothing but a bunch of bushes and manzanita, and five hours later there is a trail and a rock wall.”

Work on the trail started in 1996 and is currently one of the land trust’s top fundraising priorities.

Organizers and land trust officials have raised more than $75,000 over the years, with a large portion of that recently donated by 30 sponsors of the Adopt-a-Quarter Mile Trail program.

But with one small bridge on the trail costing as much as $10,000, making financial ends meet will be almost as challenging as connecting the trailheads.

“It just takes a lot of energy to build a trail through mountainous terrain with an all-volunteer effort,” said TDLT Executive Director Perry Norris.

Still, organizers hope to have the trail system complete before 2010.

And while the construction is supervised by the land trust, the trail’s progress is dependent on volunteer efforts.

“We constantly need crew leaders and volunteers,” Sheffield said.

Crew leaders must be knowledgeable about trail building, especially when it comes to erosion and construction near creeks and streams.

“You need to know how to build the trail so it won’t erode – and you want to limit the amount of maintenance it requires. You don’t want to have to go back and work on the trail every year,” Sheffield said.

Volunteers, on the other hand, need little more than the combination of a healthy back and the willingness to donate part of a weekend.

“If you are into a sport, like mountain biking, it’s good to give back, instead of just relying on [trails] that somebody else built,” said Susie Sutphin, one of last Sunday’s volunteers.

A trail-building session is scheduled for most weekends this summer, alternating between Saturdays and Sundays, but any group that wants to work on the trail at any time can arrange to do so by simply contacting the land trust office.

“Any business, friends or family that wants to go out there, we will accommodate them any day of the week,” Sheffield said.

Upon completion, the multi-use trail will offer hikers, bikers and horsemen nearly two dozen miles of trails punctuated with scenic vistas of Donner Lake, Donner Peak, Castle Peak and even Mount Rose.

Last summer efforts were focused on the section of trail that runs between the Tahoe Donner subdivision and Upper Gregory Creek in Negro Canyon. Switchbacks were built, the trail was “outsloped” and widened for multi use, and a brush crew cleared a section across the canyon.

“This section is primed for a hand crew to go through and complete,” Sheffield said.

Once the trail is completed in that area, attention will shift to Schallenberger Ridge, the prominent backdrop of Donner Lake.

There, the TDLT will working in conjunction with the staff of the California Department of Parks and Recreation to establish a trail from Interstate 80 to the west end of Schallenberger Ridge.

The trail will traverse the north side of the ridge and provide sweeping vistas of Donner Lake.

Sheffield said both the state parks and the U.S. Forest Service have been extremely cooperative in getting the trail system implemented.

The Donner Lake Rim Trail will also be a key component of the Truckee Trails Master Plan, passed in April by the town council and designed to establish a network of more than 130 miles of street bikeways and recreational trail corridors that provide access to the all parts of the community and the surrounding area.

A typical construction day on the rim trail starts around 9 a.m. and goes until the early afternoon, “but you can take breaks whenever you want,” Sheffield said.

Organizers also provide all the rakes, shovels and axes that are needed, and sometimes throw in a barbecue afterward. Other groups have chosen to take a collective dip in Donner Lake after a hard days work, and just about everyone takes away something even more endearing, Sheffield says.

“It’s very rewarding work, and people always remember the section of trail they worked on,” she said.

Sutphin agreed.

“It will be neat to look back in 15 years and say ‘I worked on that,'” she said.

The next trail-building session is scheduled for Saturday, June 15.

To register call Susan Sheffield at 582-4711.

For more information on the Donner Lake Rim Trail go to

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