After 20 years sculpting about 600 miles of wilderness trails through the thick forests of Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho and Montana, Dennis Smith is taking on the challenge of a new working environment.
He’s blazing his first desert trail, the first major hiking, biking and equestrian path through Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
It has become the proverbial labor of love.
"It has surprised me how beautiful it is here. . . . The Sonoran Desert views are more aesthetic than in any other places I’ve worked," said Smith, whose Northwest Woodland Services company is based at his Oregon home.
Desert terrain hasn’t been the only difference. The contractor has never had a project attract so much hands-on community involvement.
In the six weeks since Smith started on the 3.7-mile Sunrise Trail, he has been helped almost daily by volunteers from the McDowell Sonoran Land Trust, the nonprofit group that supports Scottsdale’s land conservation efforts.
"In other places you get two or three people who help out for a few days,"
he said. In Scottsdale, Smith has about 25 land trust members providing assistance.
"This group is good. They’re the most organized and skilled I’ve ever seen," he said.
To express his gratitude to his "Cactus Crew" and to aid the preservation cause, Smith is donating $2,500 to the land trust to supply its preserve stewards with tools to maintain his trail work.
"We’ve learned a lot about the science of trail building from him," said Cactus Crew member Leonard Marcisz.
Smith has demonstrated the basics of constructing trails to provide preserve visitors optimum scenic views while doing what’s best to protect the native environs, Marcisz said.
Smith is documenting the work in photographs and plans to make a presentation on the project at the Western Trail Builders Association’s next national conference.
His $123,000 contract is part of a $500,000 project that includes a three-acre Sunrise Trailhead, the first of nine public facilities planned for the preserve.