The state forest was slammed with a thunderstorm, tree snapping winds and all, just a few weeks before the wife and I visited for a hike. The trailhead parking area was mostly cleared, except for a few tree branches piled in the corners. We were early birds of the day, with only a couple other vehicles in the parking lot that offered at least fifty spaces. I wondered if this was the norm for this state forest, to be quiet on a sunny, Saturday morning. Or, was there an abundance of storm damage keeping hikers off trail?
The river gorge overlook was reached with only a few minutes on the main trail. A beautiful view was taken in with eye and camera lens, and then we tightened our hiking boots and set off on one of the several secondary trails that explored the forest. Rock outcroppings pushed the trail downhill in a few spots, which tested our boots and leg strength. The fun continued for about a quarter mile before the first tree trunk angled its fallen self to the trail's edge - a victim of the thunderstorm. The tree had been cut off of the trail to allow passage. We found a few others of various sizes as we traversed the Appalachian mountain ridge.
Another thing that grabbed my attention and curiosity, was the fading paint blazes on the trees, were replaced with color-coded, plastic diamonds tacked to the same trees. I was impressed on how clear the trail was of storm debris, although the surround forest displayed plenty of storm damage. Up the trail, I heard hammering noises occasionally. I caught up to the sound maker, which was a trail volunteer installing the plastic trail blazes. The volunteer was a pleasant lady who wiped the sweat from her brow and happily granted me an interview for this and future stories.
I was surprised to learn that the volunteer was not from the state we were standing in, but from a neighboring state. She detailed how she and other volunteers of her non-profit group spend hundreds of hours each year, managing the trails and promoting them. Several of her comrades had assisted the state's forestry division with the cutting and clearing of storm damage. Her enthusiasm for the trails and keeping them open for others to enjoy, was obvious and contagious. We chatted for a few more minutes, before she grabbed another blaze plate from her pack and continued her work.
Trail volunteers such as this do tons of thankless work across thousands of hiking trails every year. Volunteers perform trail maintenance and construction tasks such as: build bridges, water bars, stairs, safety railings and cables, to name a few. Volunteers also spend hours and in many instances, their own money, promoting trail use and conservation efforts performed throughout the trail's home park or forest.
The next time you put your boots to trail, give a thought to those volunteers (and property employees) that make the trails possible. If you meet one on a trail, shake their hand and tell them how much you appreciate their efforts. A way for you to repay the favor is to join a trail group on your home turf. If so, you may be the one receiving the grateful handshake. With government fiscal budgets that don't consider natural resources a high priority, trail volunteers are more valuable now than ever.