Monday, June 9, 2008

Give Back by Volunteering to Maintain Trails

Ask Henry Panter what is favorite trail is and he will tell you that the Hummocks, a 2.5 mile loop on the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is close to the top. “It is constantly changing” he said. Panter was leading a group of 10 volunteers from the Washington Trails Association in making some repairs on the dramatically altered trail.

A large slide split this portion of the Hummocks trail in two.

For my part, it had been about a year since I had been on the trail as an employee of the U.S. Forest Service, and on this day, I didn’t even recognize large portions of the trail. In early 2007, myself and several others flagged a reroute that was designed after the November storms of 2006 blew out a key portion of the right of way. Another section slid away this year and a beaver has built a dam in the last year that submerged two other sections of the path.

A new beaver dam was displacing the trail with high water.

Because the beaver took out the trail with a rising level of water, a new 50 foot section of trail was constructed higher on the slope.

Washington Trails Association (WTA) along with other groups like the Lewis County Backcountry Horsemen volunteer thousands of hours each year to fix storm damage on state and federal trails each summer. Panter, a mechanic from Stevenson considers himself a “professional volunteer” and has put in nearly 200 days of volunteer time on trails over the last decade. The groups other leader, Kevin Koski from Port Orchard has contributed 87 days since 1999. WTA began volunteer trail work in 1993 with a little over 800 hours and in 2007, over 80,000 hours of time was donated to trails in the state.

The two guides volunteer in doing what used to be the jobs of seasonal workers for the U.S. Forest Service, but in this age of declining budgets, volunteers are being called upon to take care of trails on federal lands.

WTA set up numerous volunteer parties over the weekend of June 7th (National Trails Day) and 8th all over the state. On this morning, 8 strangers were brought together by Panter and Koski to solve issues created by the ever changing Hummocks Trail.

Kevin Koski (left) and Henry Panter introduce the basic tools of trail repair and maintenance to a team of volunteer workers on Sunday.

The team of volunteers were introduced to a handful of tools employed in trail maintenance and then shown some basic techniques in trail design. The first lesson was the design and use of water bars to prevent trails from becoming small creeks. After all, water is the number one enemy of a trail. Later the crew built a short reroute to elevate the trail above a rising beaver ponds and then a rock structure that allowed hikers to step over s small stream without getting their boots wet or damaging the wetland. The most basic action was “grubbing” or moving soil to allow for proper drainage off of the trail.

My son Jared (on the left) and Nalini Nadkami from Olympia "grub" to create a drainage bar.

My son Jared is one of the first to test out an elevated step-crossing of a small drainage.

Among the group of volunteers were two Evergreen State College Instructors, a long-time employee (34 years) of the National Park Service and two volunteers for the Mount. St. Helens institute not to mention myself and my hard working 10 year old son. It should be noted that almost to a person, there was almost no experience in building or maintaining trails outside of our two leaders.

For their troubles and time, each volunteer was given a free pass to use forest service recreation areas (worth $5). After two passes are collected, they can be traded in for a free annual pass (worth $30). After 5 days of volunteer work, WTA gives you your own personalized helmet to use on future projects. Seldom does a week go by in the summer when there are not several work parties occurring all over the state. If you are interested, check the WTA site, but hurry. Work party space is limited and it goes fast!

Our group of volunteers took a moment to take in the scenery of the Toutle River and the volcanic landscape.

I was motivated to join this group because in many places I have hiked this year, fresh work on the trails had been completed. Under my breath I have said "thank you", but it occurred to me that guilt was a feeling erased by effort. It struck me funny that there was no one from Lewis or Cowlitz County (besides myself and my son) to help maintain one of our backyard trails. Which leads me to ask, what are you doing next weekend? Care to grub a little?

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