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Trail Work 101: An Easy Intro for New Volunteers

Posted by Rachel Wendling at Feb 18, 2020 12:58 PM |

Curious what trail work is about? Come join us to learn how to maintain trails in a low-key supportive environment.

by Barbara Budd

You’ve seen WTA’s crews out on trail, working hard with tools and maintaining the trails you love. You’ve even thought about signing up for a work party, but something has held you back. 

For some folks, the idea of joining one of WTA’s trail maintenance crews is appealing, but also daunting. Can I do that work? How hard is it? Am I strong enough? What if I don’t have any experience? Should I take a whole day to try something I’m unsure about?

Ridgefield. Photo by Stasia Honnold.JPG
Volunteer assistant crew leaders (in orange hats) help new volunteers get the hang of trail work during an intro to trail work party at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Stasia Honnold.

WTA’s new introduction to trail work series lets you answer those questions for yourself while trying out trail work in an inclusive, low-pressure environment.

An intro to trail work day is about 4 hours long, allowing participants to experience the fun of working on a trail without fear of getting worn out. The group spends ample time discussing the techniques of basic trail maintenance and how regular maintenance keeps trails in good shape. Then, experienced volunteers are paired with one or two new volunteers to tackle some projects. By working in small groups, folks new to trail work can get immediate feedback and ask lots of questions.

One volunteer at our intro day at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge said, “I enjoyed having an experienced trail volunteer guide me and one other person through our work on just one section of the trail. ... I was able to ask my questions and get quick answers. Someone showed me what to do each step of the way.”

If you have been hesitant to join a WTA work party, intro to trail work can help you discover how much fun it is to keep our trails in good condition. A participant at the intro day at Lincoln Park in Seattle found that to be the case.

“This introduction class was ideal for me,” they said. “It was full of newbies and leaders who were prepared for newbies. ... And most importantly, it gave me the confidence that, even as a beginner, I can be helpful and constructive during a ‘real’ work party. Getting all of that in a nonjudgmental environment was just what I needed to get started. In fact, I’ve just signed up for my second work party!”

The trail maintenance techniques taught will vary, based on the project. New volunteers might learn to clean drainage to get water off the trail to prevent erosion. Or they might clear brush that is encroaching on the trail, to clear the way for hikers. They may work on a project such as smoothing out the trail’s surface to increase hiker safety. Or maybe the day will be a little bit of each. Participants learn each task at the pace that suits them best; there’s no rush.