Let Me Tell You about Wilderness Volunteers
It’s an understatement to say that I value my time spent thru hiking on the big three trails (AT, PCT, CDT). Another understatement: These trails don’t maintain themselves. Another understatement: Off trail, it’s never long before I start to miss the simplicity, community and adventure of the thru hiking life.
Fortunately, one can choose to translate that gratitude, awareness and nostalgia into action: the action of volunteering.
The outdoor volunteer opportunities abound, but one group I’ve especially enjoyed working with is Wilderness Volunteers. Wilderness Volunteers is a nonprofit organization that offers week-long trips to various destinations across the country to work with, per wildernessvolunteers.org, “our public land agencies to address current concerns and backlogged maintenance projects”.
“Projects have different group capacities, from 10 to 12 people, two of whom are trained volunteer leaders. Meals and snacks are provided and are included in the trip fee for each participant. Agencies supply work tools and supervision for the projects. Volunteers provide their own camping gear, basic personal protective equipment (PPE), and transportation to the trip.” Trips include front country camping, backcountry camping with support and backcountry camping with no support.
Thus far, I have volunteered with Wilderness Volunteers on four different trips: West Clear Creek Wilderness in Arizona, City of Rocks National Reserve in southern Idaho, the North Country Trail in Pennsylvania, and Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness in Colorado.
In West Clear Creek Wilderness, Arizona, my group hiked our personal camping gear, some tools, and the group kitchen supplies seven miles into the canyon, where we made a base camp. What I most loved about that week: backcountry camping, stunning canyon scenery, laughing with the group, clear desert skies at night. Challenge of the week: a cold wind that blew in for a few days and coated everything with desert grit. Work project: cutting back Mormon Tea and other desert plants from the path, building up a series of steps, and otherwise improving the trail.
City of Rocks National Reserve, Idaho: Loves: Visiting a solitary climbing area that I would never have seen otherwise, which becomes a climbing mecca in the warm season. The desert birds and unique rock formations in that reserve. Challenge: Sub freezing temperatures and snow that blew into my tent while I slept (early season project). Work project: cutting up damaged pine to reduce fire fuel and remove bark beetle habitat, and replanting with native grasses.
North Country Trail in Pennsylvania: Loves: visiting a site location within my home state, and meeting the passionate couple leading trail work on that section of the NCT. Challenges: none. Work project: enhancing drainage of a wet trail by removing soggy organic matter from trail bed and digging out drainage flows.
Maroon Bells- Snowmass Wilderness in Colorado: Loves: backcountry camping several miles into the heights of Colorado at 10000+ feet, working with several members of the Forest Service, lack of phone service and evenings spent playing Uno. Challenges: hordes of flies requiring bug nets all week. Work project: steps of aspen logs placed into the trail at intervals to reinforce against erosion.
In some ways, I think of a trip with WV as a mini thru hike, offering the simplicity, adventure, and community aspects that I so value. Returning to a simpler lifestyle of shared work and relaxation in the great outdoors, the adventure of navigating to a new location in order to volunteer, and the connections with other volunteers of different backgrounds who share a passion for conservation and often a history of conservation efforts make for a good week.
I share this info in the hopes that it reaches other thru hikers and adventure seekers interested in this type of outdoorsy volunteer experience. Maybe WV offers the trip for you this season!
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