By Nicholas Hellinghausen

The University of Connecticut is offering students a new opportunity to earn three credits this summer with their recently introduced Recreational Trails course (NRE 4695). The course is open to 12 juniors or seniors and will be a part of Summer Session 2, which runs from July 12 to August 13. The course is approximately five weeks long and consists of valuable hands-on learning experiences. 

The idea for the class began when Clare Cain, a trails director for the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, was asked by UConn’s Natural Resources and the Environment Department if she would be willing to develop an experiential and field-based course on recreational trails. 

Cain shared that throughout the course, students will become proficient in sustaining recreational trails and will be provided with an overview of natural surface trail designs and practices. Another characteristic she expressed students would develop in the course is their “trail eyes.” 

She said this is when, “you begin to see trail problems that you might not have noticed before, and after some evaluation and training, you also begin to see the solutions to those problems as well.” 

Students will participate in various activities like assessing trail conditions, field design and layout, trail planning, utilizing hand tools and hiking. Throughout the course, students will also gain an understanding of the major responsibilities that taking care of a recreational trail entails and the common misconceptions associated with them. Although to some trail-goers it might appear as if the trail they are traveling on has always been a part of the landscape, that is not the case.

“A trail user may not realize all the time and energy that has been invested in developing and caring for that trail so it naturally leads the visitor through the woods,” Cain said.

In the course, students will view recreational trails from both the perspectives of people using the trails and the people managing them. They will partake in collaborative efforts with one another as they spend time soaking in the environment around them. Students should be prepared to get a little dirty, as a significant portion of the course will take place on the campus’ Fenton Forest Tract.

After discovering all the planning and assignments that maintaining a trail encompasses, Cain said students will learn to become more appreciative of recreational trail management.