Whether hiking a Triple Crown Trail or a favorite local gem, volunteers are hard at work preserving the experience of a walk in the woods. From clearing deadfall and building bridges to turning privies through the height of hiker season, we all owe trail maintainers a debt of gratitude. And what better way to pay it forward than by joining in on the fun?
Here’s how you too can become a trail maintainer in just 4 steps, working to preserve and improve our tremendous trails.
Also check out the 7 ideas listed at the bottom of the article for easy ways to incorporate trail maintenance into your next hike!
Step 1 — Find your local trail maintaining club, organization or non-profit (or the one that manages the trail of your dreams).
Check out the lists and resources at the bottom of this article to help you discover your perfect volunteer match.
Step 2 — Decide what level of involvement you’re looking for.
Work Days — Joining a trail maintenance party for a few hours to a full day will leave you with a feeling of pride in your work and some new pals by your side. Whether you’ve only got a few days a year to hit the trail or can make weekly work trips, your contributions will certainly be appreciated.
Trail Crews — If you’ve got a week or two to spare during primetime hiking season, a trail crew may be the answer to your adventure-seeking prayers. Head out into the backcountry to set up basecamp with a crew of volunteers and tackle a major project. Be sure to choose your experience wisely — these strenuous trips are not for the inexperienced backpacker or faint of heart. Though, at least one non-profit in the Tetons has incorporated the use of pack llamas to ease the burden.
Adopting a Trail — This is a low commitment, meaningful way to contribute! Most trail section adoptions span between 1 and 3 miles, and require the adopter to walk and maintain their section 2 to 4 times per year. From packing out trash to clearing brush and small blowdowns, this is a great option for the adventurer that values flexibility above all else. Contact your local trail maintaining club to learn more about their Adopt-A-Trail Program.
Getting Creative — Not looking to turn privies or haul locust logs? Not to worry! There's all kinds of work to be done at trail maintaining clubs. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your local club to contribute in creative ways, whether it’s using social media to promote volunteer events, assisting with website development, tabling at an event, organizing trail records, or otherwise. There’s something for everybody! If you're in the position to make a cash donation, those are always appreciated as well.
Step 3 — Participate in all necessary training and make sure you’re equipped with proper PPE.
Local clubs and trail crew provide various levels of training. Additionally, sawyer training is often available through the USFS National Crosscut and Chainsaw Program. Be on the lookout for event disclaimers about the nature of the work, physical requirements, and required gear before signing up.
Step 4 — Share your work with the world and encourage others to join the philanthropic fun!
You deserve some well-earned recognition for the time you’ve given to make our trails a better place, and what better way to do that than invite others to join in on the fun with you? Being willing to chat about your experience and answer questions may inspire the next trail maintainer to strap on their boots and follow in your selfless footsteps.
Inspired? And ready to dive right in? Here are 7 easy ways to support trail maintenance next time (and every time) you head out for a hike!
- Practice Leave No Trace. If you need to brush up, this is the article for you.
- Work to leave trails better by picking up microtrash and packing out larger waste when possible.
Stay on designated trails. Even when encountering stagnant puddles or never-ending switchbacks, stay the course. Soil erosion and trampling vegetation not only harms the natural world, it also unnecessarily widens the trail for those following in your footsteps.
- Remove small blowdowns from a trail when possible.
- Carry a small piece of cardboard to rub graffiti off of metal signs, as well as a small piece of sandpaper to rub graffiti off of signs, wood bridges, and shelters.
- Report issues on trail to the local trail maintaining club or trail organization.
Share your knowledge and get your friends excited about volunteering for trail maintenance too!
Volunteering on National Scenic Trails
- Pacific Crest Trail
- Appalachian Trail
- Continental Divide Trail
- Arizona Trail
- Pacific Northwest Trail
- New England Trail
- Potomac Heritage Trail
- Florida Trail
- North Country Trail
- Ice Age Trail
Volunteering in National and State Parks
Find More Opportunities Near You
What was your introduction to trail maintaining like? What valuable lessons have you picked up from your experience working on trails? Share your story with us in the comments below!