If you’re interested in engaging with nature, it’s important to understand land stewardship, and what goes into building and maintaining trails.
Leave No Trace principles are a crucial part of stewardship, but ensuring the long term protection of trails through sustainable construction and maintenance is just as important. When I’m asked about how trails are built, the answer is never as straightforward as you’d expect! Most trails require years of planning before any ground can be broken. Generally, non-profit organizations like the Continental Divide Trail Coalition are working directly with land managers (like the Forest Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management) to plan and build trails. Past this initial stage, local communities and partner organizations are brought to the table, and public comments are taken into consideration. Once all parties are in agreement and permissions are granted, the on the ground work can begin!
As Field Programs Manager for the CDTC, my job is multifaceted, but is always volunteer centric! Throughout my outdoor career, one thing has always been evident: volunteers are the backbone of trails. With the CDT, as with most trails, volunteers are crucial in not only helping with routine maintenance, but in the long-term protection and stewardship of trails as well. Our volunteers are a bridge between the communities the Divide passes through, its trail users, and land managers. Through CDTC’s Field Programs, we have three ways in which individuals (and groups!) can get involved. These programs are integral in bringing together like-minded individuals with a shared love for the outdoors and the CDT, and teaching them the basic principles and techniques that are involved in land stewardship. With all of our volunteer programs we aim to stay involved and engaged with local communities, and a large part of that is physically showing up to support them and connecting them with any resources that they may need.
Annually, we organize around 15 volunteer trail maintenance projects. Our volunteer trail maintenance projects range from two to five days, and the scope of work ranges from new tread construction to building structures (like new bridges!). These projects seek to remedy issues on the CDT that land managers often don’t have the time or resources to address on their own.
Our 325 person (and growing) Adopter Program teaches interested individuals basic trail maintenance concepts, and equips them with all of the materials and resources they need for maintaining their very own segment of trail. I’ve always viewed Adopters as the ultimate trail Stewards. CDTC Adopters are not only knowledgeable about trail maintenance concepts, and what goes into building a trail, but are also amazing resources for the most up to date, on the ground knowledge. This year, we spent two days in the backcountry teaching Oboz employees basic trail maintenance concepts, and we’re happy to welcome them as CDTC Adopters!
CDTC has recently started hosting Stewardship events in our Gateway Communities as well! Gateway Communities are officially designated cities along the CDT that are recognized for being welcoming and friendly to hikers, as well as advocating for the completion and protection of the CDT. These stewardship events are one-day events that are designed to engage our trail communities and be as accessible as possible: ranging from one-day trail building trips to educational Leave No Trace hikes.
In my time at the CDTC I’ve seen the impact that volunteers and the work that they do has on the trail. They are able to fill voids that agencies may not be able to, and often are the ones building, clearing and maintaining the trails so that users like you and I can pass easily through. For any trail users I would encourage you to educate yourself about stewardship practices to ensure that the important work that these hard-working volunteers do is not in vain. This National Public Lands Day, remember that stewardship is a shared responsibility, and even the smallest of contributions goes a long way!
If you’d like to help CDTC in its mission to preserve, protect, and complete the CDT, visit https://continentaldividetrail.org/volunteer/ to sign up for an upcoming Volunteer Trail Work Project or Adopter Training.