Giving Back By Getting Dirty
Before hitting the road, Jerud and I decided that we would do more trail work once we were living in the RV. While we lived in Asheville we both volunteered with our local mountain bike group and hiking/conservation groups on trail workdays. But it wasn’t as often as we wanted; in all honesty, it was too infrequent.
But because of our previous involvement with non-profit organizations that do trail work, we’ve seen first-hand how important and invaluable volunteers are. As we all know, trails don’t build themselves, and forest services have very limited funding and manpower to be able to maintain all the existing trails within their management realm. Volunteers are not only vital to trails being maintained and built, but they also add credibility and value to the non-profit organizations.
Since we love mountain biking, our tendency is to look for local mountain bike clubs that are hosting trail workdays while we are in that town. While in Salida, CO we found out through a bike shop that Salida Mountain Trails happened to have a trail workday the first weekend we were in town. We were in Missoula, MT when it was National Trails Day and because we’ve always volunteered for National Trails Day it was a no brainer that was how we were going to spend our Saturday. And MTB Missoula was the local bike club that had a service project scheduled.
One of the cool things about showing up for trail work is that no matter what city we’re in, arriving at the parking lot for a trail workday feels like home. The setup, the layout, the execution of the project is all the same no matter where we are – there’s typically food/snacks/coffee being offered from the back of someone’s vehicle, a handful of liability papers to sign, people congregated around the food chatting about all things outdoors, the standard welcome and safety talk, tool distribution, and hiking into the work area. So doing trail work in a sense helps cure any homesick feelings for us.
There are many benefits that come out of doing trail work aside from giving back to the community and the trails that we/you will probably be using and enjoying:
- Through trail work we get to meet like-minded people who are as enthusiastic about riding as we are.
- We get local intel on great trails and routes (not necessarily just about riding).
- Make new friends.
- Find people to ride with.
- Get a great upper body workout.
- Cures any longing to work in dirt and swing a tool.
- Gives you and your travel partner some space from one another.
- Get free food (there’s usually either free breakfast items or lunches) and sometimes beer.
Really if you think about it, volunteering to do trail work whether you’re living on the road or in a stationary home has tons of benefits! And if you can’t find a service project in your outdoor sport, other groups will be thrilled to have you join them. We all use trails one way or another - even if you’re a trail runner or hiker you can still volunteer at a mountain bike workday. Same with river clean ups – even if you don’t paddle, clean rivers benefit everyone.
Tips on looking for trail work opportunities
- Search online for local mountain bike, hiking, climbing, and paddling clubs.
- Look online for local outdoor conservation organizations, a lot of times they are involved with maintaining/building hiking/paddling trails.
- Call local outdoor stores. If you have an REI in your location, they are always a good resource for local service projects information due to their involvement in the outdoor community.
- Access Fund lists local climbing coalitions by state.
- Contact local climbing gyms.
- IMBA’s (International Mountain Bike Association) website lists locals IMBA chapters.
- ACA’s (American Canoe Association) website lists local ACA Paddle America Club.
- National Trails Day’s (NTD) website lists groups that are celebrating NTD and have registered on their site. The first Saturday in June is always National Trails Day.
- Similar to National Trails Day’s website, National Public Lands Day’s (NPLD) website also lists groups that are hosting a service project on NPLD. National Public Lands Day is celebrated on the last Saturday in September.
- Contact local forest service and/or state park offices.
Tips on volunteering
- Remember to RSVP to the service project so the host knows how many tools/food to bring. This also ensures that they don’t head out before you arrive.
- Contact the organization about the difficulty of the trail work and length of the service project if it’s not included in the workday description. Some trail work may require you to hike or bike in with tools.
- If a mountain bike service project requires volunteers to ride in make sure you carry a bag that can hold long-handled tools and you are comfortable with trail difficulty on your bike.
- Dress to get dirty and wear closed-toe shoes. It’s typically smart to wear long pants and bring a long-sleeve shirt, especially in areas that have poison ivy/oak/sumac and if volunteers will be working in thick overgrown brush.
- Bring clothes to change into afterwards if you want.
- Bring your own work gloves. Yes, a lot of times groups will have work gloves for you to use, but they can’t promise that the gloves will be in your size and will be a left and right hand pair.
- Bring your own sunblock/bug spray/medication and whatever else you will want on trail. Essentially, pack like you would for a day hike.
- If it’s a river clean up, check if the host will provide boats/life jackets/waders, etc.
- Bring water, snacks, and lunch if free lunch isn’t available afterwards.
- Make sure you have directions to the meeting spot in case cell service isn’t available on the way there.
- Perhaps have the event organizer’s cell phone number/email address so they can be given a heads up if you can’t show up last minute or are running late.
- Always check if pets are allowed at the service project.