Trail Work: Doing Our Part

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My toddler isn’t old enough to go mountain biking or trail running. He has enough trouble walking outside without tripping over his own feet and getting distracted by pine cones, sticks and birds. Everything in nature is wonderful to him—the way it should be for all of us who are blessed to have the privilege of spending time on the trails.

I don’t know if my son will be into outdoor sports when he gets older. But I do want him to have every opportunity possible, and I have no bias toward which recreational activities he decides to participate in. I also know that it’s my duty (and yours)—regardless of what outdoor sports we enjoy—to protect our trails for future generations.

As the population continues to grow and people turn towards more active and healthier lifestyles, it’s only natural that trails are going to attract more people looking to improve their quality of life. While this is a good thing, more crowds mean more footprints and more trash.

It’s important to educate those new to hiking, mountain biking and trail running about conservation, trail etiquette and how to get involved in trail work. And we need to lead by example by continuing to volunteer ourselves. Let’s work together to build, restore and maintain our public lands and trails—for our own enjoyment, and future generations to come.

Below are some tips on how you can find trail work opportunities in your community.

1) Social media: Even if you swore off Facebook (I don’t blame you) you can still use it for good. Facebook is a great tool for staying up-to-date on trail work opportunities in your area. Find and follow a local trail maintenance group, and keep an eye on your events tab for upcoming volunteer opportunities.

Non-profit groups like the Trail Keepers of Oregon (TKO) regularly post trail work parties online where volunteers can learn how to build and restore trails, get accustomed to using the various tools, and gain insight into the local flora and fauna. I discovered an opportunity through Facebook to work with TKO in the Columbia Gorge shortly after the Eagle Creek fire. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

2) USFS: The United States Forest Service “manages and protects 154 national forests and 20 grasslands in 43 states and Puerto Rico.” Contact your local office to find out what volunteer opportunities are available and how you can get involved.

3) Reach out to Race Directors. Race directors need volunteers to help clear trails before an event. But even if you aren’t running in that race chances are you still use those same trails. Plus most RDs are familiar with the local trail maintenance organizations and should be able to steer you in the right direction.

4) Talk to your trail running friends and local running clubs. Most of the veteran ultra runners in your area have done their fair share of trail work over the years. Ask them where they’ve volunteered.

5) Get involved with your local International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) chapter. The IMBA is a wonderful organization that offers many great opportunities to volunteer.

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About Author

Drew Dinan traded the tropics of the Florida Keys for the trails of Bend, OR. Once living the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle, working on fishing boats and owning only a single pair of flip flops, he now has way too many running shoes in his closet and never hears the end of it from his loving wife. He is on a constant quest to find the best happy hours, likes to complain when it’s cold outside, and one day hopes to travel the country writing reviews on chicken wings.

9 Comments

  1. Thanks for this! Totally agree. I much prefer ultras that require trail work. In a perfect world, every ultra would require 4 to 8 hours of trail work. We should be asking RDs to require it. And to add to this conversation, we should also ask ourselves and our community how we’re helping solve the climate crisis. Protect Our Winters is another org worth supporting and following. Thanks again for writing this!

  2. Aubrey Garner on

    This is a really positive and helpful article!! Thank you! There has been some negative backlash to this subject in regards to another recently published article.

    • DREW DINAN on

      Thanks for your comment. We won’t mention that other article. Our energy is better served doing trail work 🙂

  3. Thank you so much for sharing ways we can all get involved and find opportunities in our local area. Trail work is so important, but the how and where is the biggest barrier to getting involved.

    • DREW DINAN on

      Thanks MAC,
      As my friend pointed out yesterday, we can do our part on any run/hike/bike we do. Clearing branches that have fallen, picking up gel wrappers people leave behind, etc. It doesn’t have to be organized trail work parties. But I think the trail work events are wonderful ways to learn how to use the tools and how to properly maintain trails. Plus they are a great way to meet new people. I hope you find some good volunteer opportunities in your area. -Drew

  4. DREW DINAN on

    Thanks, Clare!!! I agree, even 4-hour requirements for shorter ultra distances would go a long way. Just learning the basic skills and trail work practices would give people the knowledge to maintain trails when they’re out on their own as well- not just during organized trail work parties.

    Thanks for sharing the info about Protect Our Winters. You have an amazing outdoor community in Boulder and do some amazing work. And I’m always jealous of the support the trail running community has for one another when I see all those green Rocky Mountain Runner shirts at so many races. Thanks for doing your part!!!

  5. Trail work opportunities abound here in So California’s Ventura County with the Santa Monica Mountains Trail Council [https://smmtc.org/]. Their work began in 1972, and was crucial to getting the iconic 67 mile Backbone Trail completed. This trail extends from Will Rogers Park in Brentwood/LA all the way to Sycamore Canyon in the Pt Mugu State Park.

    This discussion was instigated by Marc Peruzzi’s Outside Online’s moronic column, where he thought it would be cute to slag a user group he’s not part of. In the face of stiff criticism, Outside doubled down on the stupid, but hey! They gotta follow the advertiser dollars, yo.

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