Douglas Spring trailhead in Tucson’s Saguaro National Park East is well known to the masses who hike or jog the popular system, but few likely have any idea about the heavy maintenance and restoration work that keep the trails in place — or the giant rocks hidden under many of the slopes they tread.
But on a recent spring morning, that work was underway near Bridal Wreath Falls, about 3 miles up the Douglas Spring Trail.
Here, a dozen members of the Saguaro Trail Crew had set up their workplace for the next few days. Along a stretch of trail just above a wash, they were building what looked like large stone “steps” up the trail ascent.
The “steps” you see on Douglas Spring Trail are actually small “check dams,” explained Zak Beyersdoerfer, assistant volunteer coordinator and trail crew member.
“Hikers complain about them because they are hard on the knees, and horses try to avoid them making side trails which defeat their purpose — but we put them in to create a level area that slows down water velocity to retain soil,” he said. “The goal in building trails is to conserve soil and reduce erosion.”
For a mild grade, like the Bridal Wreath Falls section, each check dam had an almost level soil bed up to a “dam” rock with a short drop to the next dam bed. A completed section looked like mellow steps with a large flat soil bed in between. Because of grade, a steep area like the first climb up from Douglas Spring Trailhead, may require shorter beds and higher “dams,” appearing much more like a steep staircase to the unhappy hiker.
“We try for a maximum of 8 inches with each step rise to try to balance soil retention with hiker comfort.” But some rocks on the trails exceed that height, he noted.