Our team members grab a cup of coffee, some eggs and bacon, a tool, and a hardhat – and the day’s adventure begins. This scenario is repeated all over the country, from a western high desert to a Caribbean beach, from a windy pass in the Rockies to an island forest.
We, the trail crews representing the American Hiking Society, are campers, hikers, teens, retirees, or hitting our 40s, 50s, 60s, even 70s – and we’re all avid hiking devotees -- and we love to WORK! My crew got acquainted at a picnic shelter over dinner the first night of a week-long service trip with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ranger Nick Teague who gave us our work agenda for the week along with a safety talk on how to use Pulaskis, MacLeods, grubbers, loppers, and saws while sparing the appendages of our fellow crew members! Trail work can be done by everyone, young or old, spry or “less spry”, and it is exciting to visit different parts of this great country to contribute to the effort of keeping trails in shape.
AHS, headquartered in Silver Spring, MD (www.americanhiking.org) has completed or will complete 88 projects in 2009. Besides trail work, AHS advocates for trail establishment and preservation on Capitol Hill.
Signing up for a project is easy, just register online (membership in AHS is included in the cost), then upon confirmation, a day or two before the work week, travel to the host agency’s staging area (fly or drive at your own expense). The host agency supplies the project’s tools and food, and the crew member brings a sleeping bag, tent, boots, work clothes, and a readiness to get grubby.
Meeting fellow members from all around the U.S. is great. We’re like family within 24 hours – it never fails! While it’s great to meet hikers who walk the trail as we work, sometimes a project has few visitors, especially if it’s a backpack into timberline or in a canyon. So, why work on a trail that’s so far away that it might not get noticed? Because the agency has asked for our help….because we’re hard workers… because we have a zeal that money can’t buy…because we just “want to give back.” Two of our crew members in June, for example, had thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and had heard of AHS and were curious about how to help on the islands of Puget Sound in Washington State. On every trip there’s a full ‘rest’ day -- a great way to see the surrounding terrain at a leisurely pace!
At day’s end, we swap stories about the trail we hiked, we enjoy sunsets and star-studded night skies, we nibble appetizers, we consume great meals, and we laugh – a lot! “Voluntourism” is steadily on the rise – and I love to put my limited spare time to good use helping out government agencies who oversee recreation lands… regardless of whether passing hikers compliment our work!