On June 7, while many were just reaching for their morning cups of coffee, about 100 dedicated souls laced up their boots and prepared for a long day out on the trail. But they weren’t there just to smell the flowers; this group gathered for a cause.
Saturday, June 7 marked the American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day, the largest nationwide celebration of trails. The event evolved during the 1980s as a way to inspire American’s to get outdoors, volunteer and protect the amazing public lands access we are able to enjoy.
Across the country, annual National Trails Day events get people out hiking, kayaking, horseback riding and—most importantly—giving back. In Salt Lake City, volunteers were already gathering in Little Cottonwood Canyon by 9 a.m. to go over the day’s agenda, which included trail work, weed removal, litter clean-up and graffiti removal. It was an exhausting list of work, but necessary—and, at the end of the day, extremely gratifying.
For a summer after college, I worked on a trails crew for the U.S. Forest Service. Our workday started at 7 a.m.; our packs filled with enough food and water for a 10-hour day, we struck out for the trails. Our forest was not like the Wasatch-Cache, on the front range of a large metropolitan area. We didn’t have to worry about closing off user-created trails, or fixing wear and ruts and broken bridges caused by tens of thousands of running feet and rolling bike tires. Instead, our duties often consisted of finding the trail. In a forest used mainly by hunters in the fall, our trails often disappeared under grassy meadow dotted with lupine and phlox.
At one time, before budget cuts and forest consolidations, the U.S. Forest Service hired large crews of energetic youth to mend forest paths. Many fire fighters I worked with got their start swinging a Pulaski not on the fire line, but on the trail. These days, such crews are hard to come by. And, sometimes, it shows. The foothills of the Wasatch grow more invasive weeds than native flowers. Beyond the wilderness boundary sign anywhere in the Wasatch, trails have fallen into disrepair.
In my ideal world, there would be more paying jobs caring for our trails, but there is also something to be said for asking users to take just a little bit of their time to care for the outdoor playgrounds that they enjoy. After all, the trails, paths, mountains and rivers we use need constant care. If you missed the June 7 event, there are other opportunities. Pick up a shovel and spend a day of service maintaining our public lands. Here are a few upcoming events and suggestions on where to look for more projects:
Join Cottonwood Canyons Foundation for a family-friendly restoration project at Silver Lake. Volunteers (children as young as 5 are welcome with an adult guardian) will meet in Big Cottonwood Canyon on June 28 at 8 a.m. After a light breakfast, volunteers will be given tools and instruction on the projects for the day with work beginning around noon. Register by June 26 by e-mailing the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more stewardship programs like the Silver Lake restoration project, go to the Salt Lake City REI events board at REI.com/Stores/Salt-Lake-City.html
Invasive weeds are clogging the Jordan River. Salt Lake City’s Service in the City volunteer program has a number of volunteer opportunities, and on June 17, they’re asking volunteers to help TreeUtah clear out some of these weeds. For more event details and to register, go to SLCGov.com/Volunteer/Volunteer-Opportunities-Within-City-Government
Big Bend Habitat Restoration is a major project scheduled until December 2015 focusing on a 20-acre area along the Jordan River that is a critical habitat for deer, fox and migratory birds. Volunteers are needed for fence removal, invasive weed pulls and native vegetation planting. To see scheduled project dates, go to JordanRiverCommission.com. For more information on the Big Bend project and other unique volunteer opportunities, visit the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources volunteer page at Wildlife.Utah.gov/List-All.html. Projects on this site range from habitat restoration and log-cabin construction to pinyon- and juniper-removal projects.