Giving Back: Trail conservation, volunteering and more
Cover image: Every trail you use is the result of forward-thinking professionals, volunteers, and dedicated people who understand the importance of access. All images: Craig Romano
I often take to the trails to escape the madness of civilization. In nature I see order and reason. In cities I often see chaos and confusion. There’s nothing like a walk in the woods to rejuvenate a tired and tried soul. There’s nothing like an invigorating hike to help validate my existence and my place in the world.
The natural world gives us so much. It's important to give back.
And while I need the natural world for my sanity and sanctity; the natural world very much needs me and other like-minded folks to help keep it from being compromised, abused, and lost forever.
I learned the importance of giving back to nature and to my beloved trails at an early age while growing up in New Hampshire. New Hampshire has one of the best trail systems in the nation because of the hard work of such organizations as the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). And New Hampshire has an incredible network of protected lands (more than 25% of the state) both public and private (open to the public) thanks to pragmatic and passionate organizations like the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF).
When I got hooked on hiking as a young adult and realized how many threats my precious wild places were facing, I immediately became involved with the hiking and conservation communities. For while I relish in my solitude when traipsing all over the backcountry; when it comes to protecting our parks, forests, and trails, we cannot be loners. Nor can we be complacent about being involved with trail and conservation organizations.
Trail crew = good people.
As trail users and outdoors recreationists we are indebted to the tireless advocates, volunteers, and activists who secured these places for our enjoyment. And we owe it to the next generation, that these places remain protected and open to all Americans. We have a moral and ethical obligation to give back to the trails and wild places that give us so much pleasure.
How to Give Back
Seek out trail and conservation groups in your area—and beyond. Support organizations that share your outdoors values and have excellent accountability records when it comes to leveraging your hard earned cash—and when it comes to getting things done.
Do what you can, but do something. No financial or in kind donation is too small. And no amount of time volunteering is not appreciated.
As a young college student in 1982 I scraped some money together and joined SPNHF. I have been a member ever since—even though I left New Hampshire in 1989 for my new home in Washington State. But I return frequently to my home state’s trails and I love seeing what my money and the money of so many other trails and natural places loving folks can do. And it is because of the special places that SPNHF helped protect in its 115 years—places that helped me green bond and live a meaningful and connected life to the outdoors that I am the person I am today.
My membership in SPNHF was just the beginning of more than a dozen trail and conservation organizations that I would eventually join and support. Other groups I am proud to be a member of include The Mountaineers, Friends of the Wapack Trail, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Columbia Land Trust, Skagit Land Trust, San Juan Preservation Trust, Conservation Northwest, Kettle Range Conservation Group, and the Washington Trails Association (WTA). The latter one I am strongly involved with and especially proud to be a member of such a dynamic, diverse, and effective organization.
Washington Trails Association
I have been a member WTA for two decades; and if ever there was a group that tirelessly advocated for, maintained, and expanded our trail system, this is the one. This 13,600-member organization has done phenomenal things contributing over 140,000 volunteer hours on 180 trails in 2015 alone. More than 4,400 volunteers from across the state including more than a 1,000 youth and teens contributed to WTA’s trail work parties. This is the equivalent of 3.5 million dollars of labor—all going to our public lands.
This is so important in Washington, where past legislators and governors have shown little interest in properly funding our state park system. And Washington’s national forests including the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie which is one of the most hiked in the country are operating on skeletal budgets with tiny trail crews.
WTA has also directed more than 27,000 online activists to advocate for protecting, expanding, and funding our trails and wild places. Without WTA and so many other dedicated trail and conservation groups, Washington’s trail system would be in dire shape--with countless trails unmaintained, overgrown, dangerous to travel, and in danger of disappearing forever.
And aside from all these great things that WTA has done for Washington’s trails and wild places; it has allowed like-minded folks to connect, fostering a large and diverse hiking community. In this hyper-partisan and divisive time, this is so important that so many different folks can come together-regardless of ethnic, socio-economic cultural and political backgrounds—and focus on what we all have in common—a love for wild places and a strong sense of stewardship for OUR lands.
As an outdoors writer I enjoy sharing adventures with my readers and introducing them to an array of wild and natural places to explore. And it is my duty to make sure that my readers are well aware on how these places came to be—and what we must do to carry on a legacy of trails and protected lands.
Craig with his son.
My handful of guidebooks have a strong conservation ethic. I hope through my writings that more folks become involved with trail and conservation organizations so that they too can pay it forward and become part of our large community of folks living heathy and connected lives to the outdoors. And I want to be assured, that these trails will continue to be there for my son—and generations to come.
Craig Romano is the author and co-author of seventeen Northwest hiking guidebooks including the bestselling Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula (Mountaineers Books), and brand new 100 Classic Hikes Washington (Mountaineers Books). Visit him at CraigRomano.com and on Facebook.