Building and maintaining a durable hiking trail is more complicated than it seems. It isn’t just smoothing out the dirt, it’s determining a comfortable grade for the hillside, mapping switchbacks, tilting the surface to withstand water run-off, and hauling in the correct materials for long-term use – all factors that most of us probably take for granted.
In addition to all of the above, the trail builders sometimes have to reinforce a curve or bolster a steep grade with carefully placed steps, support walls and, occasionally, bridges over troubled spans.
Trail work goes on constantly. Water and bicycle erosion are chronic challenges, as is the trimming of new growth. Perhaps the most significant recent work has been performed in Will Rogers Park. Not only has the trail’s main course been rerouted to an easier switchback design, but also hillsides have been cleared of brush and every turn reveals another grooming feat.
The double bridges atop the Backbone Trail in Will Rogers may be one of the most dramatic spots in all of West Los Angeles. As the narrow ridgeline began to fall away, first one bridge and then another were erected to provide safe passage. With expansive views from either side, the bridges seem to “float in air” and serve as a common destination point for easy local hikes.
The Temescal Canyon Waterfall Bridge is similar in construction but spans a lower canyon stream with the popular Waterfall to the north and a seasonal pond underneath. Both bridges utilize man made fiberglass-like materials and a traditional looking nut and bolt assembly.
Several other bridges worth noting include the relatively new mini-bridge along the Leacock Trail, just below and connecting to the Temescal ridgeline. Most folks just tromp right over and by, but the trail builders put some significant effort into engineering the little wooden span, which provides easier going and protects the fragile hillside from slippage. Also you should take some time to appreciate the combination of complex wooden bridges and support structures along the descent into Rustic Canyon in Will Rogers Park. While some of the wooden handrails have been recently removed, much of the descent is a wonderment of engineering ingenuity with ramps, step downs, and creative retainers that have been in place and functional for decades.
There are a host of man-made discreet steps and improvements tucked into our hillsides all over the Santa Monicas. Most are part of grander plans but some are just little touches that seem to appear when you least expect them. If you have a favorite example of some unheralded trail building, give me a call. We’ll check it out and give the unknown builder some over-due credit.
Fearless readers interested in joining free Monday and Wednesday night hikes are invited to call Scott Regberg at (310) 475-5735.