Volunteer Vacations are opportunities to work outdoors in state and national parks, usually building and repairing hiking trails.   Sponsored by the American Hiking Society, these week-long adventures are difficult work, but very rewarding.  Here are some that I've been a part of:

Below are some pictures of work I helped do on the Iron Goat Trail in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. First, a foggy morning in the back of a pickup going to the work site (we slept in bunk beds in a small lodge):

Foggy morning

Then you start with the rudiments of a trail:

Starts with nothing

And after moving lots of dirt and prying boulders:

Moving more boulders

You end up with a better trail for hikers:

Trails ex nihila

Another adventure was in the Challis National Forest in Idaho.  Here the goal was to reestablish a trail on the side of a mountain; the trail, used by both hikers and riders on horses, had been washed away.  So getting to the spot with our equipment and supplies for the week required some help on the backs of horses:

Thank you, horses and mules

The horsemen would return in a week; meanwhile, we set up camp and pitched our tents -- home, sweet home:


This is what the "trail" looked like when we first got there:

Making progress

To build a trail on a mountainside, you have to dig into the side of the mountain, but also build up the trail with rocks and boulders so it doesn't wash away again.  The rocks come from the mountainside above the trail, so of course every time you try to slide a rock or boulder down to the trail area, it will often either bring dirt with it (covering up the clearing you've done) or continue on past the trail into the valley and river below.  A Sisyphean feat:

Work continues

Taking time out for lunch, I had a butterfly perch on my hand here:

Butterfly on my hand

You're supposed to bring your rain gear each day to the site, even when it looks gorgeous in the morning.  If you don't and a sudden storm approaches, you have nowhere to hide on the mountainside, and you end wearing a Hefty bag, which is, of course, useless:

Bring your rain gear

This is where we bathed at night, and it was freezing:

Where we bathed

I better not back up another step:

On the edge

It took a week to finish this small section of trail.  Here we are halfway through:

Almost done

Finally, another recent adventure was in Catoctin Mountain Park in central Maryland.   Our task was rebuilding water bars, so that the trail would not continue to erode when it rains.  But you do your work on the trail even when it pours, which it did two of the days we were out there:


To build a water bar, you first drop a locust tree (locusts take a very long time to deteriorate) and then lay it at an angle to the trail so the rains will sweep to the side (after you dig an indentation for the log),  You also need to take the bark off the tree:



Then you replace the area behind the water bar with rocks to minimize erosion.  Since this is a walking trail and since the "right" size rocks are rarely nearby, you find big rocks and then break them up with a sledgehammer:


Careful -- you might find a poisonous snake nearby:


Then you haul buckets of dirt to cover up the broken-up rocks, because after all, people will be walking on this trail:


So here are some before and after photos:


Lunch on the mountaintop:


Dirty and tired at the end of the day:


If you're interested in this type of fun, check out the Web site for the American Hiking Society.

Carcassone tally board

Tom 110    James 93

Tom 179   James 91

Tom 174  James 146

Tom 165   James 144

Tom 175   James 135

Tom 182   James 162

James 158   Tom 66

James 174  Tom 146

James 200  Tom 135

James 178 Tom 171

Tom 169 James 152

Tom 145  James 140

James 167  Tom 114

Tom 188 James 164

Tom 145  James 129

James 149  Tom 136

Tom 171  James 169

Tom 172   James 141

James 195  Tom 89

James 173   Tom 110

James 185   Tom 119