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Trail Work Guide

On WTA work parties there is a job for every volunteer. If you're new to trail work, here is a quick look at some of the kinds of work you might do on trail with WTA.

If you’re new to trail work, this guide will introduce you to the many aspects of building and maintaining trails. The variety of work tasks—from digging and lopping to nailing and sawing means there is sure to be a job that’s right for every volunteer.

Working on trail tread in the Teanaway. Photo by britt Le.
Working on trail tread in the Teanaway. Photo by Britt Lê.

Every trail needs something different, which means each work party is different and even volunteers who’ve been coming out with WTA for years continue to learn new tips and tricks. And remember, the best way to learn trail work is to come out on a WTA work party and get your hands dirty improving public lands for future generations.


Work Safety

Our motto at each and every work party is, “be safe, have fun, and get some work done.” Safety is first because without it a fun and productive day wouldn’t be possible. On a work party the physical, mental, and emotional safety of every volunteer is our number one priority.

If you, at any point feel unsafe or uncomfortable on a work party please tell the crew leader. In order to maintain a safe work environment, please consider the following:

  • Start with "Safety First."
  • Use personal protective gear.
  • Use correct tools in good condition.
  • Carry tools safely.
  • Eliminate area hazards.
  • Use body motion wisely.
  • Protect others.

Annual Maintenance

A well-built trail can stand the test of time, but only if it’s properly maintained. Nature is dynamic and each season bombards our trails with something different. From managing falling rain to falling leaves to falling trees, the perennial work of volunteers is essential to keeping our trails open, navigable, and looking their best.

Working on trail tread. Photo by Erika Haugen-Goodman.
Raking the trail smooth. Photo by Erika Haugen-Goodman. 

Maintenance tasks include brushing to keep the trail corridor free of branches and leaves poking in; clearing debris from drainages so rain water doesn’t form puddles on the trail; and scraping built up organic material from the surface of the trail. Read on for a detailed account of regular maintenance tasks


    Construction Projects

    Some sections of trail require an extra degree of engineering to make them long-lasting. The common building materials (rocks and logs) are usually sourced from the surrounding area and then prepared for installation. There are a number of tried-and-true structures that do a great job of fortifying a crumbling swath of trail, elevating a section out of the mud, or spanning a creek or river.

    Building trail structures is an exciting part of volunteering with WTA. Photo by Jeremy Tarife.
    Building trail structures is an exciting part of volunteering with WTA. Photo by Jeremy Tarife. 

    From bridges to puncheons to rock walls, the complexity and permanence of these projects make them some of the most rewarding and memorable volunteer experiences out there. Find out more about the kinds of construction projects you could work on with your fellow volunteers. 


      Tools

      Trail tools are unique to this work, and there is a tool for every job and for every volunteer, whether it’s digging, scraping, chopping, sawing, hauling, or prying. Since everything (including tools) must be carried into the work site, many tools are designed to do multiple jobs—this saves on weight without sacrificing function.

      Trail tools lined up. Photo by Erika Haugen-Goodman.
      Trail tools lined up. Photo by Erika Haugen-Goodman.

      WTA provides the tools at each work party and with such an array, volunteers are able to try out many different types. Learn more about trail tools and how they are used to keep Washington's trails looking great. 


      Glossary

      Trail work has its own language and every part of a trail has a name. You don’t need to be fluent in all the lingo to come out and have a great time volunteering, but if you hear a new term or, often wonder, “Is there a name for that?” then check out our glossary of trail work terms to up your vocabulary.

      Blueprints for a trail structure. Photo by Anna Roth.
      Blueprints for a trail structure. Photo by Anna Roth.