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Hiking with New Eyes: A First-Timer's Experience on a BCRT

Posted by Anna Roth at Jul 13, 2017 06:00 PM |
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Amy Redmond was inspired by her friend and assistant crew leader, Joni Johnson to try out a BCRT. Here's her telling of the experience out on the Olympic Peninsula.

Amy Redmond was inspired by her friend and assistant crew leader, Joni Johnson to try out a BCRT. Here's her telling of the experience out on the Olympic Peninsula.

By Amy Redmond

As with many great plans, this one started over beers with a friend. I was with my friend Joni (pronounced Jawnee)—who has been an assistant crew leader (or orange hat) with WTA for several years. She has no shortage of enthusiasm, and her propensity for mischief—combined with her closeness in age to my mother—has earned her the endearment of my "bad mom". It was February, and the conversation turned to volunteering. 

"You really need to come on a BCRT with me this summer. I can’t believe you haven’t done one yet! Registration opens tomorrow morning. How many of these can you join me on?"

Amy and Joni sawing out a log on their BCRT together. Photo by Rich Tipps

Joni pulled out her calendar and read off a series of dates. I pulled out my own calendar and we compared notes. Being self-employed usually affords me more freedom in my plans, but it’s no match for Joni’s flexible retirement schedule, which was already filled with lots of WTA volunteer time. We ran through dates one at a time.


July’s Gray Wolf River BCRT on the Olympic Peninsula was a match. I set an alarm for 7:00 a.m. the next morning to remind me to be online as soon as registration opened. Satisfied, Joni nodded her approval, tapped her beer to mine, and dispensed my homework for the evening.

"Get online tonight and fill out your paperwork, or else you'll risk not getting a spot."

Later that night, like a good "daughter", I followed through. Registration went smoothly so I sent Joni a text. "I’m in!" She texted back a beer-toasting emoji.

When I received the 'What to Expect' email from our crew leader, Rich Tipps, in the days preceding our trip, I was already in the process of dehydrating my meals. Reading about our work plans was helpful, setting my expectations for the type of work we'd be doing, and stirring my enthusiasm.

I pulled out my Green Trails map to look at the exact locations Rich described, looked at the elevation of our campsite and checked the weather. I was more than ready for a few days of fresh air, and it looked like we'd be lucky; warmth and sun was in the forecast. 

Getting by with a little help from friends

Shortly after receiving Rich's email, I got a text from Joni to confirm I'd be staying at her place the night before. She added, "Sandra will be here too!"

Sandra Hays always has a smile for her friends and for new volunteers. Photo by Emma Cassidy.

I was lucky to have not one, but two friends—both orange hats—on my first BCRT, and I was guaranteed fun, rewarding work. Shortly after arriving at the trailhead the first morning, we made our round of introductions. Our group was unique in that it was small (8, not 12 people, so our camping didn't overstress the area) and evenly split between men and women.

Though we had five assistant crew leaders and just three green hat volunteers, the safety and tool description talk was given as seriously as if all of us were new—and each person had a helpful bit of information to contribute. Rich also informed us that he, along with all the orange hats, had chocolate to share as motivation while working. Six people with chocolate for three green hats? I liked those odds.

We took our assigned tools and started down the trail. Two miles in we split up into smaller groups and started brushing, which I dubbed "weeding the woods". After lunch we moved down the trail and split up again to do some blow-down clearing. Our group was proud to have cleared a large, fallen, punky cedar from the trail with only Pulaskis in record time.

Joni attacks a rotted log with a Pulaski to remove it from the trail. Photo by Amy Redmond.

Considering all Users

We then turned to a more difficult tree, which to my untrained eye seemed fine as is: it was off the trail and even seemed like a great place to set a pack without having to bend to hoist it back on. But for equestrians, it was right at stirrup level and could pose a problem.

With this example, I started to see the trail beyond the scope of foot traffic: clearing the area on either side of a trail allows safe travel for pack animals as well as search and rescue groups.

Removing a large log that made it difficult for equestrians to pass. Photo by Amy Redmond.

I was reminded of this several times as we worked over the next three days, reinforcing eroding trails with stripped cedar logs and pruning trees based on where they'd be in three to five years, not next year. We cycled through different groups, having a chance to work and learn with each person, laughing and sharing stories as we worked.

I appreciated being asked how I'd handle a particular trail challenge, which encouraged critical thinking and problem solving, making me feel as valued as the more seasoned crew.

Improving a narrow section of tread. Photos by Amy Redmond.

By Day Four I was weary, wishing I'd scheduled a post-trip massage. Back at the trailhead we lingered over cold (!!) refreshments, snacks and the last of the trail chocolate. I was teased that I would never be able to walk down a trail the same way again, and in the two weeks since being on the BCRT it has proven true.

New Perspective

After my BCRT I dayhiked the Upper South Fork Skokomish River trail with some friends, making it about seven miles in before turning around. Along the way we climbed with hands and knees over several fallen logs, crossed several streams that had worn treacherous vertical slopes into the trail, and bushwhacked our way through severe blowdowns that have hidden the trail as it rises out of the meadows just past the Olympic National Park boundary.

After the hike, over celebratory beers, my friends raved about what an adventure the trail had been in its neglected state.

"You guys!" I exclaimed. "You really need to come on a BCRT with me..."

Feeling ready to join a BCRT yourself? There are lots to choose from—sign up today to explore Washington and repair a trail near you.