Have you ever wondered how all the trails we love are made and who is responsible for building and maintaining them? Large groups of hard-working volunteers and professionals all over the country are in charge of keeping every dirty mile in good condition.

For part of the year, I work for one of these trail crews. Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, based in Steamboat Springs, Colo., is a non-profit conservation group with the goals of engaging youth in the outdoors and inspiring them to use their strengths and potential to lead healthy, productive lives. Corps members live and work together 24/7 in a camping environment, completing trail projects during the week.

One of the most interesting, impactful projects I participated in was a three week stint re-vegetating a trail in Breckenridge, Colo. My crew and I worked to close down some bike trails, which had originally been built for coal mining years before. The bike trails, however, had degraded to the point sediment was running into the local river. This project involved replanting trees and flowers to help with re-growth, and carrying trees and large branches onto the trail to block movement and improve soil quality.

Aside from doing the work, it was interesting to view the area’s historical uses and contribute to its future preservation. For instance, because coal mining formerly dominated this area, we found a shaft and several old home foundations.

For every bit I did, I knew I was contributing to the area’s positive future use. Eventually, teams hope to build more trails and allow access into other parts of the forest.

I can’t wait to get back out again this summer to continue working with all the different types of people that share my passion. The group is diverse: from high school or college students trying to figure out what exactly they want to do with their lives to adults who have left their careers in media, finance, or other secure fields. We’re all brought together by these labor-intensive tasks to form small, connected communities doing something to protect our land for future generations.

It is truly spectacular how much beauty we have in our country. Trail crew is something almost anyone can do if he or she is willing to put in hard work and has a desire to care for the environment. Locally, you can also help out by volunteering with the NYNJ Trail Conference, American Hiking Society, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, or many other local non-profits.

[Credit: Katie Caulfield]
[Credit: Katie Caulfield]