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Martin Reichhalter

The pathfinder

Which direction to take? When it comes to the hiking trails of Klausen in the Eisacktal Valley, Martin Reichhalter always knows which way to go.

He is one of the eighty people responsible for the hiking trails in the Eisacktal Valley. Every year, when the snow melts, Martin Reichhalter sets to work, fixing trails, signs and markings. Why does he do it? For the love of nature. A packed lunch, a warm jacket, a mat to stand on if the meadows are still wet and a pocket knife. On the 17,000 kilometers of hiking trails in South Tyrol, you never know what you might need. Those who hike them regularly carry ordinary equipment. No one worries about how these trails look and how all the signs are in place. This is obvious to everyone, but not to Martin Reichhalter.

Martin is one of the trail keeper in the Eisacktal Valley. Each of them is in charge of an area, although sometimes entire families are in charge of it. Reichhalter keeps an eye on the trails around the town of Klausen, performing this task for over twenty years. Alone.
"Somehow this task has been entrusted to me"
Until his retirement, Reichhalter worked in a concrete batching plant, but already in his twenties he discovered his passion for hiking. Since then he has been recharing his energy in the mountains. He became a member of the South Tyrolean Alpine Association (AVS). In the meantime, his hobby has turned into a profession: when he is not maintaining the hiking and theme trails in the Eisacktal Valley, he works as a mountain guide for the Alpine Association of Klausen. His passion for the mountains can be seen on his face: His face has taken on a healthy color from the many hours spent in the fresh air. 

Regularly, the trail keeper from Klausen shoulders his backpack to check on things. In spring, when the snow melts and clears the paths, Martin Reichhalter has his work cut out for him. Then he goes kilometer by kilometer along the hiking trails assigned to him and makes notes. Where is the signage no longer correct? Where are signs missing or broken and weathered? Where does grass need to be mowed or stones cleared out of the way? His commitment requires a lot of dedication. That's why it's difficult to find successors. But he is not thinking about that at the moment. "Somehow this task has been entrusted to me," he says and laughs.

The location of his home alone reminds him of this every day. The mountains grow almost to his doorstep in Klausen, where he lives with his wife. He usually sets off on foot from here, carrying his worn notebook and camera in his backpack, a paintbrush and some paint to restore weathered signposts. Sometimes he takes the car, but only if he has to carry heavy sign material. "In order to get the signs in the right place, I behave like I don't know the area." At such moments, Reichhalter often recalls a hiking vacation in the Canary Islands. There, he would have been lost without his GPS device. "You had to search for the way, it was unbelievable. That's when I thought we were living in paradise here."

For love of nature

That's why Martin Reichhalter believes that signage is so important. In South Tyrol, signs can be found on stones or on the bark of trees. Those that indicate not only the direction, but also the name of a mountain hut or a peak, are placed on signs. The signposts used are made of Swiss stone pine, which turns silver-gray and crumbles over time, so a few years ago all the signs were replaced and standardized. In spring, Martin Reichhalter applies fresh paint. He only gets upset when he notices that the signs have been deliberately ruined. "The trails don't belong to us," he says bluntly, "we should have more respect." That's why he tries to set a good example: he always carries a bag to collect waste. And he noticed that things have gotten better in recent years. "People care about cleanliness. If a path is free of litter, it takes a lot of courage to throw something on the ground." And in saying that, Reichhalter isn't referring to an apple core, but to cans, tissues and plastic bottles.

Martin knows the routes around the town like the back of his hand. He knows how to get to spots that offer views of the Dolomites and those where chanterelles grow. He can say that 2014 was a year full of gentians and that at least once in a lifetime you have to walk the "chestnut trail" starting at Vahrn/Neustift. "I do have a healthy hobby," he affirms. And much more than that. But Martin Reichhalter is not a man of big words. Nor is he aware of the social importance of his role. "Why am I doing this?" he repeats in amazement at the question and raises his eyebrows behind his glasses. "Of course, for the love of nature." And because it's been that way for a long time. 

Text: Verena Duregger
Publication: 2014
On a hiking path