“The Puzzler” is complete after 4 years of collaborative efforts

A few Thursdays ago the trail work crews took the final walk off the mountain from “The Puzzler” trail. With headlamps lighting up the hanging orange tape, we ripped the flags from the trees that had marked our access path for the past year. It had been 4 years since the first flags marking the potential corridor for the new trail were hung, now only a few faded and torn pieces remain. I was expecting a more dramatic end to what has become the most challenging trail built to date by SVBC. But after 2 winters of planning and 2 years of construction, all of our energy had been left in the rocks, in the jagged pieces of the puzzle. “The Puzzler” is a 1.1 mile trail that connects the Massanutten Peak Trail to the lower slopes of the Western Slope trail system.

The early exploratory days of “The Puzzler” did not hide the relentless terrain that jets out of the upper slopes of Massanutten. During the dozens of scouting days, the upper rock fields were always dark, cold and windy, uninviting to most, but for us with rolls of tape the rocks gardens were magnetic fields that pull us deeper into the woods. When we would finally break through the rock gardens to reach the ridge trail on those cold scouting days, the view of the white ski trails and resort grounded us, giving us bearing when the compass seemed to be broken. We could have continued for years exploring and searching for the “best line”, but at some point you need to take that leap of faith and release. You just need to create the line, connect the dots, and put the puzzle together.

The trail that has been rightfully named “The Puzzler” was like most SVBC projects, a partnership of passion. A collaboration by those who love to build and create with their hands and minds. Built not just for their own enjoyment but for all those who love a good singletrack trail traversing the slopes of a mountain. The partnership was a collaboration of so many groups, the dedicated Thursday work crews who showed up every Thursday for two years to build the puzzle. Sam Skidmore who spent a month building with the mini excavator, that kept finding rocks that seemed to be growing instead of decomposing. The Saturday work crews who came at the 12th hour when a hand was needed.The Appalachian Conversation Corps. work crew who help build a trail they had never seen. The amazing part of this project, like so many other trail builds, was the trust given by each group. These folks probably did realize how much that trust meant to us project leaders. It was the building of the puzzle without ever seeing the picture on the box, that is trust! Thank you!

Now that trail is built, I look forward to walking away for a while, a needed break to clear the mind. When a big trail project like “The Puzzler”, “2K” or “Lookout Mtn” is completed, I value some separation from the project, a time to clear the mind in order to come back and fully enjoy the trail experience. It is at this time when no tools are left on the trail, when I am refreshed, that I can fully enjoy traveling the memory lane that the trail has to offer. Each rock reminding me of the individual that helped with that section. There were over 150 folks who had a hand in putting “The Puzzler” together, an accumulation of more than 2300 work hours. That is a lot of triggering of great memories.

I would like to thank all those involved, especially SVBC, for always trusting, believing and providing the resources to build what we love … trails and memories. Massanutten Resort whose partnership with our local community only grows stronger with time. The Western Slope is a playground for which we are very grateful. Vince & Karl who also were there when I had to walk (or fall) away on Thursdays. Rich Edwards of IMBA who always is the distant driving force of knowledge and trail building.

I look forward to building with you all again!

Thomas