Hit the Trail

Members of a GMC Trail Crew maneuver a boulder
on Vermont’s Long Trail.

Photo by Becky Hewitt.

The hiking trails throughout the Northeast provide affordable recreational and educational opportunities for everyone, but it’s easy to forget how much effort goes into constructing and maintaining them. Think of the last hike you went on. Did you know that, from start to finish, it takes an average of 8 person-hours to build an 8-foot section of bog bridging? Or that it can take 10 hours to set one stone step, and 20 hours to build a rock water bar?

If you’re passionate about hiking and spending time in the woods, volunteering with a trail organization to help build and maintain these trails is both a great public service and a rewarding way to enjoy the outdoors. Trail work enables you to spend time outside and work with your hands. Plus, you’ll gain great friends, stories, and an increased appreciation for trails.

There are many ways to volunteer. Good places to get started include local towns, parks, and land trusts, as well as state and national parks. To search for volunteer opportunities in any state, try Volunteer.gov (www.usafreedomcorps.gov), which features a search engine that allows you to find volunteer work throughout the region. Simply type in a state and an area of interest (“trail maintenance”), and you’ll find a variety of opportunities. American Trails (www.americantrails.org) is another on-line resource for finding trails, organizations, and trail-related trainings in your area.

The American Hiking Society (www.americanhiking.org) and the Appalachian Mountain Club (www.outdoors.org) are two of many organizations that coordinate Volunteer Vacations in the Northeast. The American Hiking Society also organizes events for National Trails Day (June 6, 2009). If long-distance trails are your passion, the Appalachian Trail (AT), which runs from Georgia to Maine, is supported by 30 trail clubs that maintain specific regional sections. For information about volunteering on the AT, visit www.appalachiantrail.org.

Another end-to-end trail in the region is Vermont’s Long Trail, which is maintained by the Green Mountain Club (www.greenmountainclub.org). If you enjoy a combination of trails and paddling, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (www.northernforestcanoetrail.org) connects the waterways of New York, Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire, and Maine, and they are seeking portage trail maintainers. (Editors note: See story on Northern Forest Canoe Trail on page 38.)

For folks looking to get their hands dirty for the whole summer, there are several longer-term volunteer opportunities throughout the region; the Maine Conservation Corps (www.maine.gov/doc/parks/mcc), the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (www.vycc.org), and the Student Conservation Association (www.thesca.org) are good places to start. Participants in longer-term volunteer work with these organizations are often AmeriCorps members. The AmeriCorps program provides volunteers with living stipends, health insurance, and educational scholarship opportunities. For more information about what AmeriCorps has to offer, visit www.americorps.org.

I served for two months as a field team member with the Maine Conservation Corps in 2004, and the experience changed my life. By the end of the stint, my crew had become my family, and I had grown accustomed to our life in the woods. It felt great to be outside all day, and it was wonderful to be muddy, bug-bitten, and smelly and not care. Each night we fell asleep with exhausted muscles and minds knowing we were going to wake up the next morning and do it all over again. I took such pride in watching our efforts turn into something functional, tangible, and beautiful at the end of each day.

One word of caution: due to the high percentage of wonderful people associated with trails, volunteering out on the trail may result in marriage. I met my husband on a trail crew back in 2004, we were married on a mountain, and we currently maintain a section of the AT together. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 
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