Celebrate National Trails Day 2023 by Volunteering on Your Favorite Trail
Hey. Hey, you. Tomorrow (Saturday, June 3rd) is National Trails Day. Celebrated annually on the first Saturday in June, National Trails Day is an opportunity to celebrate our trails on public lands, especially national scenic and national historic trails.
Why should you care? I can think of a few good reasons. First of all, you love trails (I can tell because you’re reading an article on The Trek about National Trails Day, which is a dead giveaway). Tomorrow is your chance to give back to the trails you love: outdoor and trail maintenance clubs all around the country will be hosting volunteer events to mark the occasion.
Second, you love hiking on said trails. Again, The Trek, this article, your eyeballs, etc. It’s super obvious. Trail maintenance is a great excuse to get out into the beautiful nature for a few hours.
By volunteering, you’ll get to spend the day on one of your favorite trails while simultaneously working to improve them. Now every time you hike in that area, you’ll feel all warm and fuzzy knowing you did something to make a great hike even better.
Third: just think of all the cool, like-minded people you’ll meet out there! They must love hiking as much as you do to spend their Saturday performing manual labor in its name.
And finally, the trails really need your help. Keeping them up requires a lot of money and manpower, both of which are often in short supply. From clearing vegetation and controlling erosion to picking up trash and cataloging invasive species, there’s too much work and not enough volunteers who are willing and able to do it all.
So if you’re looking for something to do this weekend, consider lacing up your boots and volunteering on a trail near you. Even if you can’t make it on National Trails Day, take a look at the events calendar for your local trail maintenance club and pick a date that does work for you—trail maintenance goes on throughout the year, so there’s no need to limit yourself to a one-day event!
Interested in learning more about trail maintenance and volunteerism? We’ve pulled together some articles for your reading pleasure.
Trail maintenance takes a lot of time and effort, so it makes sense that many long-term volunteers are retirees. But as the volunteer population continues to age, members are retiring from trail maintenance or scaling back—and younger people aren’t stepping up to take their place.
Volunteer maintainers are “graying out” and nobody’s replacing them.
It took more than 1,600 miles of walking on the Appalachian Trail before it struck me how important volunteers are to keeping the trail open, healthy, and sustainable.
The epiphany struck as I was trundling down one of the steepest half-mile sections on the AT toward Vermont Route 9. It was pouring rain, and I was immensely grateful to the anonymous laborers who had built a series of stone steps out of monolith-sized boulders.
How in the world do they get these things into place? I wondered.
Nine months later, strapped liked a mule to a 600-pound chunk of granite on Yellow Mountain near the Georgia-North Carolina border, I finally got an answer: inch-by-inch, via teamwork, with plenty of thick, mud-grimed yellow webbing, sheer muscle, and lots of grunts and groans. — Clay Bonnyman Evans
Are you a former thru-hiker looking to reconnect with the hiking community? Honor the time you spent on the trail by giving back to it as a volunteer. This brief guide makes it simple to find ways to get involved with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
After finishing my hike, I knew I wanted to start volunteering right away. What I didn’t know was where to start, and finding the appropriate clubs and people to contact was overwhelming and complicated. Luckily, I live very close to the ATC headquarters in Harpers Ferry and just stopped by to talk to the staff, but most people who love the trail don’t have that luxury.
I worked with Laurie Potteiger, information services manager with the ATC, to put together a resource to break down volunteer opportunities and help other hikers give back to the trail they love. — Jessica Porter
Ever wonder what trail maintainers actually do? Triple-Crowner-turned-trail-maintainer Silent Bob spent 900 hours giving back to the PCT in 2017. Here, he describes a typical day as part of a trail crew, from the too-early morning alarm clock to a long day of Type II fun in the sun.
First things first: shut off the foghorn of an alarm going off and get yourself out of bed, or wait for a “GOOD MORNING! TIME TO GET UP!” call. Personally, being up first is great because you get to scream obnoxiously loud and watch people fumble out of their tent with confusion. I don’t mind the dirty looks.
Breakfast time sees the emergence of everyone’s finest self: bed head, sweaty clothes from the previous day (still damp with partially hardened sweat stains), and dirt caked on their face with a pathetic smile. We all chomp on a cold bagel with cream cheese, eat a granola bar or an orange, and drink some coffee or tea. Whatever suits you. Express yourself. Some people deny breakfast food and eat crackers and Gatorade. Savages. — Silent Bob
Do you know what a check step is? A water bar? You will after you read this article, an in-depth look at the finer points of trail construction. Then you can impress your friends with your insider knowledge of trail-building terminology.
Once enough complaints have filtered in, trail maintainers hike their very non-UL gear into the woods and re-cut the trail. For a while, it is free of debris and mud. The pounding of thousands of feet slowly reshapes it, year by year – until a line of hard hats appears again. It is a balance, a cycle that repeats itself. — Maggie Wallace
Everyone loves trail angels, and well they should: these generous and giving souls make the trail safer, easier, and more fun for thousands of hikers each year. But while the term most often conjures mental images of angelic figures bearing hot dogs and cold drinks, it’s important to remember that the chainsaw-wielding trail maintainers you just saw marching up the trail to clear blowdowns are trail angels too.
…In addition to this weight, we were carrying an assortment of rakes, shovels, axes, hoes, and swing blades, plus rain gear, food, and water… putting our packs at around 40 pounds. Our tallest member, a man approximately 6′ 7″ tall, asked to take two 30-pound bags. When all was said and done, he probably had about 75 pounds of gear.
When we started up the trail, the tall guy and the septuagenarian took off and left the rest of us in the dust. I, being a trail angel at heart, had tucked a 12-pound watermelon in my pack, plus a knife and cutting board for a pack weight of about 50 pounds. — Bloodhound
Have hiking trails helped make your life better? Pay it forward by volunteering to keep those footpaths in good shape for future hikers. Our writer makes an impassioned argument for returning to the trail as a volunteer—and shares some great resources for former thru-hikers looking for ways to get involved.
I was a bit surprised to learn that past thru-hikers volunteering for trail work is not very common. To me, volunteering seemed to be something I owed to the trail. It gave me months of enjoyment and memories, so I felt it deserved some love in return.
I would urge any aspiring thru-hikers or past thru-hikers to do the same. We all enjoy the trails we hike, and it is unfair to expect everyone else to continue to upkeep them while we blaze through them.
Thru-hikers might spend months on the trail, but we don’t own the trail more than anyone else. It isn’t their responsibility to clean up our mess, whether it be a frivolous fire pit, toilet paper, or damaged switchbacks. Being considerate of other trail users —a key Leave No Trace principle—is one that should not be forgotten. Don’t be a (total) dirtbag. — Silent Bob
More Resources for Volunteers
Featured image via Maggie Wallace.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.