Trails. They’re what we’re all here for…because trails exist + we love them with our pinky puffy hearts. We run them. We hike them. We camp next to them. We fall down on them. We find ourselves along them. Trails are the reason we are all here together; supporting, enabling + befriending each other. The trails have a wonderful, weird magic that has built an incredible community by pulling together so many like-minded humans as we explore the muddy dirt ribbons as they weave through forests, up mountainsides + along raging rivers.
Oh, the community. We love the trails, but the community we’ve discovered while out roaming the world on trails is what really keeps us coming back despite cuts, bruises + exhaustion. This incredible community of trail users [#trailsisters, of course…but everyone else as well] has done wonderful things for all of us — from encouraging words to sharing snacks to genius route ideas — now, how do we give back!? To the trails + the community.
With our time!
We’re all strapped for cash in our own way [running shoes are NOT cheap] + money doesn’t actually get us outside while we’re giving back…so let’s volunteer instead! You get to get out on the trails you love, connect with new trail buddies + learn a thing or six about how the trails affect others. There are a few ways to get into the volunteering scene on the trails + we promise there is one you’ll love!
Volunteer on the Trails
This is actually really easy to do, especially during the spring months when the trails are recovering from the brutality of winter + summer months when local organizations are building up new trails. Depending upon what you’re interested in your time spent trail volunteering can require some technical skills [chainsaws!] or you may need little more than the ability to manhandle a rake. Be upfront about your abilities + the organization hosting the trail work day will be sure to get you hooked up with the right group. Many trail days provide all equipment required + snacks. There’s also a really good chance you’ll walk away with new friends + an excuse to grab food after the organized trial work is done!
Not sure where to find trail work volunteer opportunities? Check in with your local running store, local run/bike/hike groups or even your local government office to see what is available. Many run groups host annual trails days [some trail races require it, so we like to band together + make a day of it]. You can also just check out the signage at your favorite trailhead — make note of any reference to the state, county or city government responsible for the land the trail runs on or check for “maintained by” signs. Reach out to those people, they’ll be elated to hear from you!
Volunteer with Organizations
Another great way to get outside + spend some time on the trails is by teaming up with local + national organizations as they do events in your area. These opportunities are often less labor intensive [better for taper week or injury recovery] + tend to involve more trailside education. A few examples include information booths at busy trailheads, pulling on a logo’ed t-shirt to chat up trail users while you hike + getting involved in race expos or farmers markets. Many of these events will fall on the weekends are they’re hoping to reach as many people as possible [while trail days are often mid-week to avoid crowds].
Every community has a handful of great organizations + associations that put many volunteer hours into trail education, so please check with local government + trail groups to get more information on how you can help locally. However, you can also reach out to larger organizations such as Leave No Trace to get involved + help out. You may end up meeting a lot of locals along the way + find more opportunities there.
Volunteer at Races + Events
We’re not all trail runners + even those of us who run aren’t always jonesing for a race. Don’t fret; you can still have a fan-freaking-tastic time volunteering at a race! Seriously, just ask Jillian — she doesn’t even like running but she loves volunteering at trail races [proof: https://www.instagram.com/p/BL6XuFhgfB0/]. You can do the same, whether you love running or not. There are a handful of roles you can play while volunteering at a race + few require more than just being on your feet while happily catering to tired, sweaty runners.
Pop in at your local running store or check out race calendar websites like Ultra Signup to get in touch with race directors + organizers. They’re always, always, always looking for volunteers! Let them know when you’re available + what you’re comfortable doing so they can get you settled into a role that works for you. You may be hanging out at a fork in the trail for hours, telling runners which way to go while reading your book in the downtime. Or, you’ll get to spend your Saturday feeding, watering + encouraging runners from behind the table of an aid station. If you’re looking for some time on your feet ask about “sweeping”, which is clearing all course markings + ensuring all the runners make it to the next aid station. Everyone of these roles have their own perks…they’re also a great way to get involved in local races when you’re injured [don’t ask how we know!].
Of course, there are a handful of other ways to get outside + volunteer. Ways that will get you more involved in your local trail community or more knowledgeable about how your favorite trails are created + maintained. The important bit is that you’re jumping on opportunities to give back to the wonderful world the trails have created for us all!
Have we missed an obvious opportunities? If so, comment + we’ll add it, because the world should know about all the creative ways you’ve managed to volunteer out on the trails!
Can’t make the volunteer events work with your life schedule? Don’t worry, you can be awesome on your own! When you see trash on the trail…pick it up + pack it out. Because, #trailkarma is real! We know it’s not your fault it’s there but you can be the reason our trails stay beautiful + accessible for everyone!