Volunteering in the Outdoors // Getting Out + Getting Back
We all love getting outside + experiencing the peaceful beauty that we can only find along a lonely trail or while taking in a hard earned view…but those trails didn’t just appear out of no where to make our days better. A lot of work is put into developing routes, creating durable trails + maintaining existing trails. The people who have put their blood, sweat + tears are truly elated that you’re out there using the trails, we promise. However, as you’re soaking up all the wonder around you have you ever wondered about the time put into the trail you’re on?
Next time, think about it — eyeball the trail cut into the mountain side, make note of the well cut rock stairs + notice the strategically placed trail signs. They have all been put there by a human being. As the warm fuzzies of your trail-venture wash over you take a hot second to consider getting involved + giving back to your local trail system. There are a lot of ways to become a more intregral part of your local trails. We’ve pulled together a few quick suggestions for you, just in case you’re looking for an excuse to get more involved…
Become a Member of a Trail Association
Local trail associations are a huge part of how we get new trails, keep current trails maintained + build solid relationships with the general public. Some organizations are rather local, such as the Ice Age Trail Alliance, the Arizona Trail Association + the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. Others have a much broader reach, like the International Mountain Bicycling Association [IMBA], American Trails + National Trails System. Each of these organization [+ hundreds of others around the world] are integral cogs in the gears that give us access to so many beautiful, well maintained + varied trails. They spend a lot of time out on the trails but they also work with a variety of government agencies to develop connecting trails + enforce trail regulations.
Many of these associations require a membership fee that goes toward the costs related to developing, creating + maintaining trails. This annual fee will also give you access to trail maps, gear discounts, logo’ed swag, volunteer opportunities + organized trail-ventures. You’ll have opportunities to contribute to trail maintenance as well as the political side of creating new trail systems. Some organizations will also offer educational clinics or formal training about outdoor activities or practical skills.
Volunteering Your Time on the Trails
If you spend time on the trails please remember that these trails are not maintained by magical trail fairies. People much like yourself come out on their days off work to build new trails, repair over-used trails + maintain trailhead areas. If you have the time + ability to please considering spending some of your time on the trails volunteering. It’s a great opportunity to get outside, contribute to your local trail system + round out your week with some serious cross training. Most local, county + city groups that organize these volunteer outings require little more than a bit of work ethic, a positive attitude + a desire to make your own trails better.
A major bonus of volunteering is getting to know the other trail users in your area. You’ll meet all types of trail users from hikers to runners to bikers + this gives you a great opportunity to learn a bit more about how they use the trail. It seems simple, but cross-education with trail use will help us all overcome conflicts between usage groups [ie: hikers vs bikers].
Be Awesome on Every Adventure
Giving back to your trail system + Mother Nature’s ecosystem doesn’t always require specific planning or money out of your pocket. When you’re outside exploring simply take note of your surroundings + play the part of a responsible, respectable trail user whenever you see the opportunity. When you see trash on the trail, pick it up. If someone left a bag of garbage in the trailhead pit potty, pack it out. Should you come across a damaged stretch of trail or downed trees, take note of the specific location to inform the local organization responsible for that trail system [the trailhead usually has at least the organizations name].
Just do *NOT* change foundation of the trail itself. Turns out there is an actual science behind building trails + the structure of the trail you’re on was well thought out with things like drainage, variable use + the ecosystem taken into consideration.
This is quite obviously not a fully inclusive list of every way you can get outside + give back to your local trail system, but it’s a pretty solid place to start. Once you start asking around at local outdoor shops + within running/hiking/biking groups you’ll be amazed at how many opportunities there are + how diverse the needs. In no time you’ll have a list of ways to donate money or gear + volunteer your time.
More importantly, do you have any other ideas to contribute to this list or any stories about how you gave back + got crazy good karma in return? Tell us…!