My First Trail Building Experience During the COSCA Trail Work Day

Contributed by Jesse Ettinger, North Ranch Mountain Bikers

I ride mountain bike trails for free. By “free” I mean “not withstanding any of my tax dollars that may be used for park & trail maintenance.” (In the Conejo Open Spaces, most of the trail construction and maintenance is done by volunteers, the exception being large-scale removal of chaparral and weed overgrowth.) So, with all the riding I do, it really was a no-brainer to me that giving back is something I can and should do.


I feel such joy when I ride my mountain bike on a great trail, and wanted to experience the joy of building or repairing one so other bikers, hikers and equestrians can do the same. I had my first opportunity to do this on October 15th, and it was as rewarding as I could have hoped.

Roughly seven or eight of us from North Ranch Mountain Bikers showed up for the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency’s (COSCA) Trail Work Day. We were a small fraction of nearly 170 people¬† who felt compelled to turn out for the same reasons I described. Some of us had done this type of stuff before, many, like me, had not.

After checking-in around 7:30 am and receiving free sack snacks, we were shuttled in two buses from the Conejo Community Center to a trailhead off Erbes road, north of Sunset Hills Boulevard. We split into groups of fifteen, and were shown how to use the two main tools with which we’d become intimately familiar over the next few hours: The McLeod and the Polaski.


The Polaski looks like an ice axe melded with a real axe. The main difference is the tool is much bigger, and has a flat edge offset 90 degrees from the blade. This flat edge is useful for breaking apart ground on a hill side and creating the uphill side of a trail. The axe part can be used as — well — an axe — for cutting apart any thick brush or wood. The McLeod has a four-foot long pole attached to a flat square of metal with several teeth on one side. These teeth can be used to sweep away large amounts of dirt, while other edges can be used to cut sections of dirt into smaller chunks. The flat bottom of the tool is useful for fine-tuning the surface of the trail once primary work has been completed.

After our briefing we were led in groups to an unfinished¬†section of the Sunset Hills Trail, looping about a mile around the east end of Bard Reservoir. Two Palmer’s oak trees, each estimated to be upward of 13,000 years old, are at the junction of the loop. The groups of 15 were spread-out along the unfinished loop, which had been cleared of brush and marked with survey flags along the lower edge. At that point we got to work, each clearing a section of trail about four feet wide with an upper embankment about shoulder high.

The new trail starts to take shape

To our astonishment the entire loop was completed and declared officially finished in about 3 hours. Though the work was physically demanding and the hikes in and out were tough, we were rewarded with mostly soft dirt and cool, foggy weather.

After ferrying back in the buses, everyone was rewarded with lunch and door prizes, including a brand new Giant mountain bike. My personal highlight was going out the very next day with two NRMB members and riding the trail. Despite the soft ground it is in remarkably good shape. It offers sweeping turns, incredible views of the reservoir and some very challenging climbs on the already developed portions.

A time-lapse of the section on which I helped build may be viewed at:¬†(I’m in the day-glo jacket.)



I tracked my mountain-bike ride the following day from Lang Ranch. It may be viewed (GPX files may be downloaded) here:

I also shot the ride with my stem-mounted GoPro Helmet Hero HD. The video may be viewed at:



I’m grateful to have been a part of this effort, and for the opportunity to donate my time to the community. I look forward to many more experiences such as this.

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