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Giving Back to Trails: A First Time Volunteer Experience

Posted by Loren D at Apr 19, 2013 04:55 PM |
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Sara Kiesler recently signed up to volunteer for her first day of trail maintenance, and then she blogged about the experience. From carpooling to learning about a cross-cut saw, read what it's like the first time you put on a green hat with Washington Trails Association.

Sara Kiesler recently signed up for her first day of trail maintenance with Washington Trails Association, and then she blogged about the experience. From carpooling to learning about a cross-cut saw, read what it's like the first time you put on a green hat with WTA. Thanks for your hard work, Sara!

by Sara Kiesler

Almost four years ago to the day, I arrived in Seattle after an epic adventure traveling across the country with two purposes in mind:

  1. I wanted to give back to the world using my media and journalism experience in some way, and
  2. I wanted to hike the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

    I was able to commemorate both purposes this past Sunday (March 31) by giving back to the trails through a WTA work party.

    Carpooling to the party on a favorite mountain

    Chris and Sara wait for their carpool ride to the work party on Tiger Mountain.

    Chris and I signed up for a Tiger Mountain Trail Party, not knowing entirely what we were getting ourselves into but enthusiastically looking forward to it. Early Sunday morning, we put on our new gloves (which we bought only after asking around for quality used ones first), put on some old jeans, and met up with our ride share partners Bob and Betsy on the North side of Seattle.

    The stars were in our favor to be in the majestic evergreen Issaquah Alps, as it was the sunniest and warmest day of the year thus far.

    The trail up to Tiger Mountain may very well be one of the most traversed in all of the country. Its proximity to Seattle and liberal usage by everyone from horseback riders to mountain bikers to hikers and trail runners has made it a popular favorite. I have hiked its sister trails, West Tiger #3 and West Tiger #2 (epic views at that one), but realized I had never been to the trail we were about to volunteer at—how exciting!

    Having fun getting the work done

    After arriving at the High Point exit trailhead, we learned the importance of carrying tools the proper way, wearing helmets and safety goggles, and the sense of camaraderie and humor shared by all the WTA staff and volunteers. Many other newcomers to trail parties were in our crew. The staff even put on a somewhat creepy bunny mask to celebrate Easter and passed around chocolate candy and donuts. After a short time, we were off to repair the damaged trail.

    And damaged it was. Roots were hanging out all across parts of the trail, a giant muddy pit stretched for 20 yards, side trails were being formed due to trail damage and multiple ramps/steps needed to be added. We definitely had a full day of work ahead of us, but everyone pitched in and made it happen. I learned so much about how to make a rock step (and use a shovel to pry a giant rock out of a pit), moving ferns to a new home to cover unwanted side trails, and using the trail's natural slopes to send runoff in the proper direction. I also learned that you can never have too many buckets, and not all rocks are willing to give in to a sledge hammer.

    One of the most exciting moments of the day was being the only person who got to use a gas-powered drill to put rebar into wooden steps in order to build reinforcements. I still can't believe they trusted me with that thing!

    A lesson in cross-cutting to close out the day

    Finally, just before we called it a day after 8 hours of volunteering on the trail, we got a lesson from WTA's Jim the sawyer (pronounced soy-yer like Tom Sawyer). He unsheathed a 117-year-old saw, and taught us how to heave and ho it back and forth between two people across a half-rotting log to get a feel for the team work needed to use such a simple and awesome machine in wilderness lands. There were lots of technical terms that Jim taught us for the work we were doing, but alas, in my tired brain they all slipped out the other end.

    All in all, a very productive and fun day. We definitely plan to go again, and maybe even plan a trail work vacation someday on one of the multi-day backpacking trips WTA leads.

    (Special bonus at the end of our Tiger Mountain Trail Party: The Department of Natural Resources provided us with two certificates that, with the addition of a third ((aka one more trail party volunteer day)) we will get a free Discover Pass to many of the Washington State parks. Considering that mine was somehow misplaced when transferring it recently, this is excellent news!)

    A lesson in cross-cutting closed out the day.

    Sara Kiesler is a former journalist and current communications professional at Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest. After moving to Seattle from Florida in April of 2009, she spent her first seven months of funemployment hiking a new trail every weekend.  Her partner Chris Rodgers recently encouraged her to start a blog of their hikes together, which she hopes grows to include more WTA Trail Parties. You can reach her on Twitter at @sarakseattle.


    Good for Sara

    Sara - nice article! Glad you made it out; sorry about the creepy bunny mask.

    Posted by:

    "Kim Brown" on Apr 23, 2013 04:23 PM