The world of trail building is one of extremes: a world where the serenity of nature is frequently interrupted by the roar of heavy machinery.
This is Dawn Packard’s world. “I was a kid that had to be chased inside, not outside,” she says.
Packard is the owner of Blue Sky Trails LLC. She came to North Dakota from Colorado back in 2007, trading in tall mountain trails for decidedly flatter terrain.
Why? “The 14-thousand foot peaks in Colorado were just getting loved to death,” she explains. “When I came here, I sort of liked what wasn’t here. This was before the oil boom.”
In the last decade, she’s built trails in state parks all over North Dakota. This summer she’s been blazing 6-and-a-half miles of new trail at Harmon Lake Recreation Area, north of Mandan. “It’s going to take us about three months.”
The work can be painstakingly slow — and loud. And it’s not simply a matter of “Point A to Point B.” “We’re using some civil engineering. We’re using some hydrology,” Packard says. “We’re using some human psychology! Where do people want to go? What’s their perceived destination? What are they here for?”
“When it’s all said and done, it’s kind of a work of art,” she says.
And once that art is finished — once all evidence of an excavator has been tilled away — hikers and cyclists will have yet another natural haven to enjoy.
“The level of appreciation that North Dakotans have for new trails on their public lands is just through the roof,” Packard says. “People are just so happy to see us out here building trails for them.”
“I always do try to take a piece of my day where I’m away from the noise, away from the crew and just take a few minutes to have a look around, soak it in and remember how privileged we are to be out here doing this work.”
Dawn Packard — blazing a trail through beautiful North Dakota — is Someone You Should Know.
Dawn and her crew work until the snow flies. In the winter, she does design work and plans ahead for the coming spring.