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Trail Magic: Not Just for Thru-Hikers

Posted by Anna Roth at Apr 25, 2019 03:54 PM |

Whether it's food, sharing spare gear, or making an extra effort to recognize a special moment, our volunteers help make WTA's volunteer community friendly, and work parties fun to return to.

By LeeAnne Jensen

trail Magic (n.) - an  unexpected act of kindness from a fellow hiker or local citizen that lifts one’s spirits

Trail magic tends to be associated with kindnesses offered to hikers on long-distance trails like the Pacfic Crest Trail (PCT). On these long-distance hikes, trail magic can be as small as sharing some fresh fruit with a passing thru-hiker, or as big as opening your home to hikers so they can shower and sleep in a real bed for a night. 

But trail magic can also be found within the WTA volunteer community.

Freshly popped popcorn on work parties has been just one of the surprises that volunteers have enjoyed on our work parties. Photo by Andrew Pringle. 

During my past four years with WTA I have seen countless acts of kindness bestowed upon new and returning volunteers. Sometimes it's an extra pair of dry gloves on a wet day or sharing your bug spray on a muggy day in mid-summer.

Sometimes it comes in the form of food brought to hungry crews by fellow volunteers, or treats to recognize important moments in other folks' lives. 

Tips, Tricks and Treats

On backcountry trips (multi-day overnight trail work outings), volunteers work and camp together, forming lasting bonds over freeze dried meals and card games. Crews share tips with one another about how to make your backcountry dinners better, and sometimes even share their food with each other.

Crews have even celebrated birthdays in the backcountry, complete with cake and decorations. 

On a Duckabush BCRT, volunteers surprised one of the crew members with a birthday cake and candles for his birthday. Photo by Jesse Van Hoy.

Sometimes, folks from WTA's community surprise crews with sweet treats. Lsast year, the crew working on the Necklace Valley trail came back to camp to a delicious surprise. Mike Read a volunteer who lives near the trailhead had hiked a marionberry pie into camp, brightening the crews day upon their return from the work day.

"I will never forget it," remembers Nate Schmidt, the crew leader on that trip. "Sky Valley Bakery. Marionberry pie. Unfortunately, we don't have any pictures. That pie lasted like, five minutes. Would've been a great photo though because a large portion of the pie was splattered across our hands and plates or proper silverware in the backcountry."

This is not the pie, but is a a rough approximation of what a BCRT crew can do to sweet treat in under five minutes. Volunteers love surprise food. Photo courtesy J Brew. 

If you have ever been camping before, you know it doesn’t take long for the daydreaming of “real” food to begin. On some BCRTs, it's starts on the hike into the campsite on the first day. So it's easy to imagine how a pie can lift anyone’s spirits in the backcountry.

Recognizing milestones

Volunteers with WTA receive certain milestones are celebrated for days spent volunteering on trail. After five work parties you get a personalized hard hat, 25 work parties a fleece vest, and at 50 you receive an engraved wood-handled handsaw.

Sometimes, volunteers will add a little something special when a friend receives those rewards. Last winter, volunteer and newly-minted assistant crew leader Karen Bean crossed this threshold for her 50th work party. To mark the occasion, her friend Elizabeth Devos hand-decorated saw shaped cookies for the event to share with the crew.

Elizabeth DeVos celebrated her friend and fellow volunteer Karen Bean's 50th work party with saw-shaped cookies. Photo by Anna Roth. 

Finally, my own experience, which will stick with me forever, was when a volunteer quite literally surprised me with homemade, hand decorated cupcakes to share with the crew on the last work party before my wedding.

Emily Snyder, who is also a volunteer crew leader for WTA, went the extra mile that day, even coordinating her plan with other volunteers to make it an extra special occasion to surprise me.

Emily Snyder Cupcakes 1.JPG
Post-work cupcakes to celebrate my wedding. Photo by Emily Snyder. 

I'm continually impressed by how volunteers care for each other both on and off trail. After the sore muscles rest, the boots are cleaned of mud, and the memories of a day spent on trail start to fade, it is the sense of community that brings us back time and time again.