Wilderness Volunteers Make for Happy Trails

Earlier this month I was fortunate enough to help organize and participate in one of the first trail stewardship projects in one of Idaho’s newest Wilderness areas, Big Jacks Creek Wilderness.  It was an experience that was physically challenging and richly rewarding.  The Wilderness Society spent nearly a decade working to protect this rugged desert canyon country, but the work doesn’t stop at protection.

The Parker Trailhead Project, which was sponsored by the Idaho Trails Association, REI and the Bureau of Land Management, was an incredible success.

A total of 23 volunteers traveled nearly 2 hours to help convert 1.5 miles of an old two-track road into a single track trail, contributing 153 hours of volunteer labor.  We hauled rocks, dug dirt, filled in holes, and built over 150 water bars.  We had everyone from college students to retirees, all doing their part.

For this group of dedicated volunteers, it was an opportunity to get their hands dirty, perform their civic duty, and help build something that will be used and enjoyed by hikers and horseback riders for years to come.  While the physical work of building the trail kept us busy, it was clear to the group that what we were doing was about more than just a trail: We were providing a conduit for people to enjoy wilderness.

Protecting land is core to our mission here at The Wilderness Society, but equally important is providing access to and enjoyment of our precious public lands.  That’s why we have been involved with the formation of the Idaho Trails Association, a group that works to protect and maintain hiking trails throughout Idaho.

The most rewarding part of the day came late in the afternoon, when I decided to hike the newly created trail down into the Big Jacks Creek Canyon.  On the way I passed two families that had ventured out on their own to experience the wilderness, using the trail we had just built.  One family had three young children, only two of which could walk.  The family didn’t know me or that I had spent time helping to protect this landscape, but it didn’t matter and I didn’t care.  Watching that family hike down the trail into the canyon gave me one of the greatest senses of accomplishment one could have.  Yes, we were building a trail, but building a trail is about much more than the path, it’s about creating a legacy that will long outlive my existence, and that’s what keeps me going.

If you'd like to volunteer for a project or get more information on the Idaho Trails Association, email info@idahotrailsassociation.org or check out their website.