Washington Trails Association
Trails for everyone, forever
Check out what a year of trail work looks like for WTA. | By Tiffany Chou
Although the seasons change throughout the year, the enthusiasm of our volunteers and field staff to get out and get some trail work done never does. No matter the time of year, we make sure to get our hands on some tools and our feet in the dirt.
We're incredibly proud of all the work our crews were able to complete this year. Read on to see what a typical year of trail work looks like for us.
Winter can be a cold, wet season to be doing trail work — and you’ve definitely got to dress and pack for the weather — but our crews still eagerly hit the trails to get it done! (Plus, who doesn’t like some type 2 fun?)
Although many high country trails are buried under snow, there is still plenty of important work we can do on the trails we can reach.
Plenty of our urban trails and parks get a lot of love during this time of the year since they are often still accessible in the snowy season, supporting our mission to provide The Trail Next Door.
A common trail issue we see in winter is inadequate drainage. With high amounts of precipitation, some trails can become boggy and mud-laden, resulting in even more trail damage if hikers are walking around them. If you head out on a trail where WTA is working during the wintertime, chances are you might see a crew cleaning out existing drains and digging out new ones. Some of our other projects include logging out fallen trees and clearing the trail corridor.
Our Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) starts in the winter and continues into spring. The seasonal program works to provide entry points into the outdoor industry by offering trail work skill-building and connections with outdoor leaders to folks from communities underrepresented in the outdoors. The small crew works on trail almost weekly, developing trail skills while taking care of our trails.
And all year long, we offer youth and families day work parties for youth ages 10-18 and their families. They're a fun way for families to spend a day together while helping support our trails.
Our trail work parties really start picking up and getting busy in the springtime. The previous winter often causes a lot of trail damage and accessibility issues — trails end up suffering from a number of problems like mudslides, erosion, fallen logs and wrecked tread. And fixing these issues can be time-sensitive work, as the peak hiking season begins in only a few short months. Even though many places are still covered in snow, spring opens up many trails for us to head to with our tools and our crews hit the ground running.
It takes a lot of work every year to make sure our trails continue to be accessible, and spring is a great time to get some annual maintenance work started — including brushing, logging out fallen trees and repairing tread — which continues into summer. Some of the trails we work on are heavily trafficked in the summer, and preparing them for that dense use is a very important part of our Trails Rebooted campaign.
When trails start drying out, we can also start building useful structures like puncheons, retaining walls and turnpikes to further protect our trails.
We also do tool maintenance in spring, just in time for things to get really busy in the summer. Tool maintenance helps our tools last longer and stay in good shape, and it also keeps our crews safe. Using dull tools or ones in poor shape can be annoying and frustrating to use at best, and they can be a safety concern at worst. We also sometimes do tool maintenance in the fall to provide some TLC after a summer of trail work.
Every year, it's important for us to work on preparing our leadership community for the upcoming trail work seasons through trainings in various regions of Washington. One weekend in spring is always dedicated to Crew Leader College, a special training weekend where all our crew leaders come together to learn and practice trail skills. If you're wondering what you might learn at Crew Leader College, take a look at some of the tools we use at our work parties or the types of projects we do.
It's no surprise that summer is when our work parties kick it up a notch. We have day work parties happening practically every day of the summer season, so it's a great time to join one if you're looking for something to fill your schedule with.
Although our backcountry response teams (BCRTs) and volunteer vacations get started in the spring, they really start picking up in the summertime. These work parties last for several days, allowing crews to take on larger trail projects or head to more remote areas (or both!).
Our BCRTs run almost weekly throughout the summer. If you love backpacking and trail work, you can do both in a BCRT. You'll pack in all of your tools and backpacking gear to a worksite in the backcountry, and spend several days working on trail with your crew.
Our volunteer vacations also run more often in the summer. These week-long trips are similar to BCRTs, but all of your gear, tools and food will be packed in by stock — all you've got to do is hike to the work site and be ready for a week of trail work! Volunteer vacations are designed so you'll get a lot of work done, but you'll also get plenty of time to hang out at camp with your fellow crewmates.
For those under 18, we've got youth volunteer vacations over the summer for a fun week doing trail work with others around the same age who are also excited about the outdoors. You'll camp together, work together, do camp chores together and bond with one another while helping us keep our trails safe and accessible. Applications usually open in the spring, so keep an eye out for dates.
Although they begin in the spring, summer is the main season for our professional Lost Trails found (LTF) crews, hired on to take on projects that are outside the scope of a typical volunteer work party. Some of the focuses of our crews have been repairing wildfire damage, working on deferred maintenance projects, tackling technical projects like building complicated trail structures and restoring treat. Much of this work takes place in the remote areas of Washington, heading further into the backcountry than most volunteer trips allow.
Between all of the work our wonderful volunteers come out to do for our trails and the efforts of our professional Lost Trails Found crews, we are always able to get an incredible amount of work done over the summer!
As it starts cooling down in the fall, our work parties try to get in as much work as possible before the snow season arrives. Sometimes this can be hard, as late September and October can see the state ravaged by wildfires. But it's the season to get some repair work in after a summer season of a lot of hiking and trail work.
During the fall, the weather becomes gloomier and trails get their first dusting of snow. We move out of the backcountry and head closer to home. But no matter the season, we continue to do the same work we have been doing all year — building and repairing trails.
Not only do our trails need maintenance, but so do our tools. Fall — like spring — is a great time to do tool maintenance, after getting a ton of use over the last several months.
In the fall, WTA also hosts our volunteer appreciation week! If you join us on trail before appreciation week, we would love you to join us for a week of fun activities and events to celebrate you and all of the other volunteers who make WTA's work possible. Among the events we had this year were regional potlucks, tours at both of our gear libraries and special work parties where we'll provide treats.
And when winter returns, you know we'll still be out there.
If you're interested in joining us at any time of year, make sure to check out our trail work calendar.