A Cut Above: Trail-Builder Luke Peduzzi

by Jamie West McGiver | August 2023, Recreation

Photograph by Jamie West McGiver

“I ’m not good with a paintbrush or anything, but I’m pretty good with an excavator.” 

Luke Peduzzi cracked the beer he’d tucked in his coat pocket at the trailhead. It hissed, shaken from the pedal up. His loyal trail companion, Spud, patrolled the area for the perfect stick—a useful job site skill.

“There’s a lot of creative expression in trail building. I think that’s part of why it’s a dream job.”

Having just followed him up a climbing trail that he built last fall, I would argue that he’s more than “pretty good.” We carried on casual conversation, gaining over 500 feet on our bikes from the parking lot to the summit, switch-backing along the shoulder of Clements Mountain, in Keene, the home of East Branch Community Trails, a new network that Luke designed and constructed.

Any avid mountain biker will tell you that if you can talk and ride while charging in a general uphill direction, and you suddenly and rather surprisingly find yourself at the top having not had to gasp for air, the trail-builder has done something—or a lot of things—right.

Luke, a Jay native, got his start in trail-building with the Adirondack Mountain Club. “I immediately knew that I found what I wanted to do. I couldn’t believe that you could get paid to do that.”

After two years of digging in his backyard, he left home to pursue mountain-bike focused trail work with the Windham Area Recreation Foundation in the Catskills, where he spent five years leading and training a crew that was, at some points, 10 people strong. After laying the groundwork both literally and figuratively, in 2017 Luke started his own trail-building company, Peduzzi Trail Contracting.

The 30-year-old brings bold ideas, creativity and a belief that it’s up to him, the builder, to ensure a trail is fun to ride, whether it is steep, wide, smooth or technical. It should complement and utilize the natural terrain and shapes of the forest rather than working against them. It should be safe, thoughtfully increasing risk only when consistent with the intended character of the trail. And if done well, and maintained with love along the way, it should stand for decades to come. “Will it look the same in 10 or 20 years? Will it be fun to ride and is it safe? Safe, fun, sustainable. That’s important.”

Currently, Luke is working on a playscape for Little Peaks Preschool and Early Childhood Center, in Keene. He described it as “a natural playground” with a slide, a stone staircase and a climbing wall. And although the finished project may look different than his usual finished product, he said it’s right up his alley, “all the aspects of building a trail but in a pile instead of strung out.”

Pending a successful fundraising campaign by Barkeater Trails Alliance, Keene Youth Commission and with support from the Town of Keene, he also expects to break ground in early summer on construction of phase two of the East Branch Community Trails (EBCT). Phase one was completed in September 2022 and included more than two miles of new trails for hiking, mountain biking, trail running and human-powered winter recreation. Phase two of trail construction would feature a new ¾-mile, machine-built, mountain-bike specific trail. Luke is optimistic about the opportunity to expand his scope of work at EBCT and is also hopeful about the future of mountain-biking in the Adirondack Park in general.

“It seems like more towns and landowners are embracing mountain-bike trails and multi-use trail systems, and we’re moving closer to having towns that are connected by these trails, which is really exciting. It’s been a long process, and groups like the Barkeater Trails Alliance have done a lot of great work to make this happen. It’s coming together, and I think it’s going to continue to get better.”

Luke recalled summer days as a kid on his BMX bike, a far cry from the modern, full-suspension bike that he would ride back to his truck in the lot where we met a couple of hours earlier.

I asked him if he thought that trail-building, like bikes, might look dramatically different years from now.

“I don’t think that building these single-track-style trails is going to change all that much. Even though I do use the excavator a lot, you always end up with a shovel and a rake.”

Find the East Branch Community Trails on Route 9N, between the hamlets of Upper Jay and Keene. Learn more about phase two of construction and how you can donate to the project at Barkeater Trails Alliance (www.betatrails.org). 

Jamie West McGiver is the proprietor of Due West Photography (www.duewestphotos.com) as well as outreach coordinator of Barkeater Trails Alliance.

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