In celebration of National Volunteer Week, we want to truly and deeply thank each and every American Hiking Society volunteer for their support, time and commitment to protecting our nation’s trails! American Hiking Society volunteers are at the heart of supporting American Hiking Society’s mission to empower all to enjoy, share and preserve the hiking experience.
American Hiking Society Volunteers taking a break from working hard to create Aransas National Wildlife Refuge’s new Pollinator Trail, a short, accessible trail for refuge visitors to enjoy native flora and fauna.
The work that AHS volunteers contribute on Volunteer Vacations is invaluable to creating and maintaining trails for all to use and enjoy whether that is in the backcountry, national parks, forests, or a favorite local or state park. For over 45 years, AHS volunteers have been traveling on Volunteer Vacations for a week of trail service, camaraderie, and fun to provide much-needed trail service to the nation’s hiking trails. Since 1977, AHS Volunteers have contributed over 650,000 hours of service that has helped to build and maintain almost 5,000 miles of trails and topped $11.5 million in volunteer labor value. We can’t thank our volunteers enough for their time, energy, and support in creating safe and sustainable access to the nation’s outdoor spaces and public lands. Thank you!
Photo Credit: Lew Gorman
AHS volunteers working on over 70 trail improvements throughout a week of service in Monongahela National Forest including grade dips, waterbars, rebenching, deberming, brushing, retaining walls, rock armoring, and junking social trails.
In celebration of the hard work contributed by so many outstanding American Hiking Society volunteers, we asked a few of them to reflect on their experiences with AHS over the years.
Why do you choose to give back to American Hiking Society?
“For decades I enjoyed hiking opportunities that others had created and maintained either through financial support or actual labor on trails. Starting about a dozen years ago, I began giving back to this effort to have quality hiking trails in a number of ways including participating annually in an American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacations. With Volunteer Vacations, I have had the opportunity to work across the US serving as a crew leader. While my primary initial motivation was simply to help build and improve trails, I have discovered other benefits. It has been great fun to meet others interested in trails and spend a week with them in a natural setting. It has been enjoyable to visit many new locations and work in such spectacular settings. I have learned a great deal about trail maintenance and construction and between Volunteer Vacations used these skills in work at local parks and preserves. I could list other benefits but my point is that I have found it meaningful to play a role in creating and maintaining the kinds of hiking trails I have enjoyed throughout my life. Along the way, the experience has had many other rewards and benefits beyond my initial expectations and intentions.” – Kenneth Brooks, American Hiking Society Crew Leader
Photo Credit: Ken Brooks
Ken Brooks working on a trail as Crew Leader at the Camp Nelson National Monument 2022 Volunteer Vacation.
What do you most enjoy about your experience as an AHS volunteer?
“AHS has given me so much! I’m inspired by people taking a week to live and work alongside others for the benefit of the environment and hikers they will never meet. It’s a week of the world being the way I wish it were. I like planning food, gear, transportation, play time, and camp life, as well as communicating with hosts, AHS staff, and crew members. Volunteering also gives me a way to spend time with old friends. A friend from college has come on several VV’s, along with his sons, and I remain friends with other volunteers from around the country. In addition, volunteering with AHS led to serving on the board of directors for two trail organizations, Benton MacKaye Trail Association and Alaska Trails. Working on trails makes me appreciate variations in ecology. Spending a week in one place, getting to know the soils, plants, topography, and animals, deepens my love of the outdoors and inspires me to advocate for wise relationships between humans and the environment.” – Shirley Banks, American Hiking Society Volunteer & Crew Leader since 2006
Photo Courtesy of Sarah Schuh, US Forest Service
Shirley Banks (front row, center) leads a Volunteer Vacation in Chugatch National Forest in Hope, Alaska
What have you learned or gained from your experience as an AHS volunteer?
“Teamwork, being helpful, being active, learning new skills, practicing existing skills and being outside.” – Mary Chayka-Crawford, American Hiking Society Volunteer since 2007
“You always learn something – best is that there are dedicated and highly proficient trails people everywhere.” – Clay Grubb, American Hiking Society Volunteer since 2005
Photo Courtesy of the BLM Cody Field Office
American Hiking Society volunteers load up and head out to the Sheep Mountain trail where they removed invasive species, built 20 feet of new steps, widened over a mile of trail, removed 5-6 large stumps, built and reinforced over 200 feet of side wall, installed 4 water bars and removed 4 downed trees from trail.
If you were talking to someone who was interested in joining a Volunteer Vacation for the first time, what would you tell them?
“Pick your spot (some place you really want to see), and find hike distances and accommodation that match your idea of fun.” – Clay Grubb, American Hiking Society Volunteer since 2005
“DO IT! AHS crews have a mix of experience, in terms of camping, hiking, and trail maintenance skills. Trips are beginner friendly. As a crew leader, I’m impressed by people who are trying something new. DO read the descriptions and contact AHS to discuss any concerns. You may even be able to borrow gear if needed.” Shirley Banks, American Hiking Society Volunteer & Crew Leader since 2006
Why do you continue to choose to give back to AHS?
“AHS has given me so much. Volunteering gives me a chance to show love of natural places in the United States. Camping, sharing camp chores, connecting with volunteers from all over and ensuring they have a good experience—a Volunteer Vacation is always a highlight of my year.” – Shirley Banks, American Hiking Society Volunteer & Crew Leader since 2006
“It’s an opportunity to contributed to the health of a hiking trail and helping maintain something that others will enjoy.” – Sean Roberts, American Hiking Society Volunteer since 2014
Photo Courtesy of BLM Moab Field Office
Sean Roberts re-naturalizes social trails on the Fisher Towers trail in Moab, Utah
Volunteer Vacations hosts have no shortage of gratitude for the hard work put forth by American Hiking Society volunteers. Here’s what some of our hosts have to say after working with an AHS crew in 2021-2022:
“Our team of volunteers, provided by the American Hiking Society, was absolutely incredible! The team of eight helped us build a new, accessible trail around a pond, close to our new visitor center. This project required physically hauling many tons of crushed granite by wheelbarrow, forming the trail, and compacting it–all with manual tools. The crew also helped us plant new trees around the trail, and repurpose old crab traps as deer-proof fencing for the new vegetation. It was tough work in the sun, but everyone worked together, stayed positive, and most importantly, friendships were made.” – Zachary Piotrowski, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge 2022
“We couldn’t have done it without the help of AHS volunteers – this multi-year effort, completed in 2021, was an important project for which there simply wasn’t funding. Without the volunteer crews to do the heavy work of trail reconstruction, it simply would not have happened in the foreseeable future.” – Samuel Annabel with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy 2021
Photo Credit: Irene Ogeto
American Hiking Society Volunteers set out on the trail with full backpacks and big smiles in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest to clean up backpacking campsites, install ice bergs and vertical mulches, build over 50 check dams, maintain 20 water bars along the trail and restore a search and rescue helipad site.
“Our AHS volunteers came with a level of professionalism and work ethic that exceeded all expectations. This crew was capable of everything from check dam installation to recreation site restoration all with a smile. We look forward to many projects with AHS as a partner in the future.” – Sam Wiswell with the US Forest Service 2021
Would you like to join a Volunteer Vacation in 2022? Many projects are still actively recruiting volunteers! View the full list of upcoming Volunteer Vacations here. Tools, expert instruction and project supervision are all provided throughout the week. Volunteers will stay in a group campsite with all meals provided. All you need is a willing attitude and to be in good physical condition to participate in moderate physical activity for approximately 6-8 hours a day. Volunteers are always encouraged to go at their own pace, learn new skills, and have fun while giving back to our nation’s outdoor spaces!
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