Have you ever been on a hiking trail and thought, “I wonder how this got here?” Look at the trail the next time you go on a hike–really look at it, and notice the footbridges, boardwalk, rock steps, and switchbacks. Whether you’re at Mount Rainier or the Hoh rainforest, that trail under your boots was built by someone, probably several people, and is likely maintained regularly by hard-working volunteers in brightly-colored hardhats.
Last year, volunteers with the Washington Trails Association (WTA) logged over 90,000 hours building and maintaining hiking trails on public lands. Many of those generous volunteers spent their vacation–yes their vacation–helping these trails. WTA hosts Volunteer Vacations all over the state.
Inexpensive? Check. Beautiful location? Check. Totally unique? Check. Incredibly rewarding? Check!
Imagine taking a Volunteer Vacation to a place like this: the trail to Hart Lake in the Glacier Peak Wilderness near Lake Chelan.
WTA’s Volunteer Vacations are extended trail maintenance work parties, lasting a whole week. The first of 42 Volunteer Vacations scheduled for this summer begins March 27 on the Hoh Rainforest Trail in Olympic National Park. Enormous towering trees, rich moss-covered forest canopy, perhaps some dappled sunlight and the gentle calling of the Hoh River. Does it get any better?
So, what can you expect on a WTA Volunteer Vacation? There will be great meals, chats by the campfire, and llamas for companions. You might find yourself lingering over your lunch on a sun-drenched granite ridge top, awed by the natural scenery around you. Maybe you’ll form some friendships with kindred spirits that last a lifetime. Perhaps you will encounter a wild animal you have longed to observe, or make great strides in your plant identification skills. Oh, and you’ll probably want to hike a little, too. They give you a whole day off just to do that, like these folks did on a Volunteer Vacation to the Upper Stehekin Valley in North Cascades National Park.
And you will most definitely be making a difference, a contribution to hiking trails that will serve generations of hikers to come. That’s right, there’s some work involved– the “volunteer” part. Your crew might be responsible for building a new bridge across a stream, or restoring a damaged alpine meadow. You might be logging out a trail littered with downed trees after winter storms, or building a rock wall to support a slumping portion of trail. And after all that work each day, you’ll be ready to eat.
It’s a real community out there on a WTA Volunteer Vacation, and everyone contributes. In the morning and in the evening, everyone takes turns sharing in-camp chores like helping the cook, washing dishes and pumping water. But there will be plenty of time left over to sleep under the stars, eat and eat some more, explore, and relax.
No prior trail experience is necessary to take a Volunteer Vacation with WTA. There are variety of trips to choose from. Some are strenuous (vacationers backpack in to the work site carrying their own tent, sleeping bag and other personal gear.) Some are car camps. WTA packs in the food, tools and other supplies on horses or llamas. A Volunteer Vacation with WTA costs only $165 ($125 for WTA members) and includes all your food, tools, and training.
So, where will you be spending your summer vacation?
More information: http://www.wta.org/trail-news/volunteer/vacations
Volunteer Vacations for youth: http://www.wta.org/trail-news/volunteer/youth
All photos are courtesy of Washington Trails Association.