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We Survived Winter in Eastern Washington with Hot Cocoa, Camaraderie and a Rethinking of Trail Work

Posted by Loren Drummond at Mar 27, 2023 04:00 PM |

Outside Spokane, WTA trail volunteers find a way to give back to trails, help snowshoers and keep community all winter long.

Washington Trails Association maintains trails across the state all year long. In spring, our trail crews help restore trails damaged by winter weather and push up into the alpine in summer. In late fall, our trail crews migrate from the alpine trails to work largely in the lowlands, where they might face rain or mud, but rarely snow. 

Trail volunteers on snowy bluff at McKenzie Conservation Area, snowshoes, steaming thermosWTA trail crew works at McKenzie Conservation Area. Photo by Holly Weiler. Steaming thermos by Erika Haugen-Goodman. Snowshoes by Emma Cassidy.

For some regions of the state, that puts nearly a full stop on volunteer trail work in winter. That’s why, in 2019, we tried something new: a snowshoe workparty. At Mount Spokane State Park, crew leader Jane Baker led a crew of volunteers (and snowshoe enthusiasts) to see if they could clear trails and help hikers when snow blankets many of the trails around Spokane.

Four years later, the regional innovation continues. The snow is even an advantage for some trail maintenance. It gives crews a literal lift to reach branches and brush that get in the way of hikers and snowshoers all year long. Just like other forms of trail work, the maintenance can even protect hikers and the ecosystems they pass through.

“Last month we spent quite a bit of time pounding in the correct snowshoe path – walking back & forth a bunch to make the correct route obvious.When previous hikers got a bit off the trail, they were passing too close to and damaging nearby trees,” said Holly Weiler WTA's Eastern Washington regional coordinator. 

Snowshoeing is popular in the Inland Northwest, and while we don’t offer a lot of them, the snowshoe work parties help winter hikers access local trails more safely. The snowshoe trail crews clear bridges and other structures, as well as place trail markers along popular routes, since the trail corridors can become tricky to spot and follow, especially in areas that get a heavy snowpack. 

Snowshoer on trail at Mount Spokane State ParkThe winter work parties improve trail conditions for popular snowshoe routes, like this one at Mount Spokane State Park. Photo by trip reporter and WTA volunteer California Girl.

Perhaps most importantly, the WTA community in this neck of the woods gets to come together to give back to the trails they love until spring melt gives way to more traditional trail work.

“Trail work that helps maintain snowshoe trails is needed,” said Holly. “Plus, it provides opportunities for snowshoe enthusiasts to go out with the security of a group while working to benefit other trail users.”

As a bonus, they get to drink all the hot cocoa they want.

Trail volunteers bridge snowshoeIn addition to trimming back trees, work like clearing bridges or setting blazes helps snowshoers and hikers. Plus, it's fun!  Photo by Holly Weiler.