What lies behind a footpath?
We humans are made to live outdoors, to walk, to breathe, to observe the world around us and replenish our energy by being out in the sun. The green of nature, the mountains, the gentle breeze, sunlight on our skin – when we're out walking, we return to nature, to relaxation, to peace.
Why do we walk?
In the past, people walked from one place to another to drive cattle to the alp or to hunt wild animals. Already then, trails were created to make it easier for herdsmen, smugglers and merchants to go about their business, as a result of which we've inherited a dense network of paths.
When it comes to getting around, nothing much has changed over the years: there's still a desire to offer visitors and locals decent ways of walking from A to B in delightful scenery. What has changed is the motive: most people these days treat walking as an end in itself and as a way of being in nature.
But how is a footpath created? How is it maintained?
Have you ever wondered what goes into creating a footpath, why you (usually) find it in good condition, or where the safety chains or waymarking signs come from? In other words, what needs to be done before people can walk on an official footpath? Is it a case of choosing a start and end point, scratching out a path and putting up a few yellow signs? Not really – it's all a little more involved than that. Typically, the aim is to reach a mountain hut, to access an alp with cattle or to get to a particular natural feature. The list of public authorities/councils, landowners and administrative bodies that have to be consulted to create a new path is as long as your arm.
95% of the paths in our region were created by previous generations long ago to get from one place to another. It requires an immense amount of effort to maintain a network of footpaths 1400-plus kilometres long, while at the same time ensuring a balance between tradition and innovation in a bid to keep the walking community interested. We need professionals who devote themselves to the care and maintenance of this network.
Focus on the footpaths team
Matteo Zanoli and his team are responsible for the paths in the Ascona-Locarno destination. The team consists of 20 people, around half of whom are seasonally employed. The most important aspect? A well-practised organisation in which everyone relies on everyone else.
In spring, when the snow melts and nature begins to awaken, remedial work on the footpaths has to be done very quickly and precisely, because the walking public wants to get back into the great outdoors after the cold winter. This calls for muscle power and excellent organisation. The damage caused by snow and frost has to be assessed during the first inspection and repaired as quickly as possible. The work in spring consists of clearing leaves and broken branches, as well as clearing the paths of earth slips and avalanches that have occurred during the winter. The grass is mowed between May and August – not a straightforward task by any means. The weather plays a crucial role: if it rains a lot in spring, the vegetation grows disproportionately fast and the paths are soon overgrown. Building work typically takes place in the late summer and autumn: the region's mild climate and the cleared paths make it possible to carry out the larger tasks.
Next time you take one of these paths – be it to relax, find inspiration or simply clear your head and escape the daily hustle and bustle – spare a thought for all the hard work that's been put into it: it'll put a new complexion on your day out.
Share your outings!
Your return to nature is important! Share your walks and hikes using the hashtag #myasconalocarno and tell us that our efforts have helped make your day out one you'll remember.
Want to explore all 1400 km of footpaths in the region? Start here with the routes we've selected especially for you.