Volunteers – The Backbone of The Great Trails State

Large group of people doing trail work - Photo courtesy of Bill Boyarsky
Photo Courtesy of Bill Boyarsky

Trails don’t build themselves. It’s a phrase that we’ve thought a lot about recently. While it’s something very obvious, it’s also something often overlooked. Rush home from work, change, get on the trail, head home, make dinner and finish the day. Those trails or greenway that provided a much needed break in the day and helped get your miles in didn’t just appear, and somehow, they’re often in pretty good shape — that didn’t just happen by chance.

Betsy Brown, Associate Director, Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail states, “Like many other natural surface trails, the Mountains-to Sea Trail would not be possible without volunteers. Volunteers build, maintain and protect the physical trail; volunteers promote trails through local and digital advocacy; volunteers lead hikes and invite newcomers to learn about trails; volunteers staff booths at festivals, educating the public about trails; volunteers assist hikers by shuttling, feeding and helping them; volunteers make it happen.”

It’s no small feat either. There are thousands of miles of trails across the state of North Carolina – greenways, hiking trails, mountain bike trails, equine and paddle trails. While some trails in cities, counties, and towns do have a paid staff to help with maintenance, it’s largely up to the work of volunteers. Betsy adds, “the 1,175-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail has a full time paid staff of six. Trail building volunteers are divided into task forces, with 22 leaders across the state overseeing volunteer work on large stretches of the MST. In 2022, over 1,100 individuals put in 44,023 hours working on the trail, with one volunteer putting in over 1,000 hours himself. If those 44,023 hours are valued at $29.95, the current dollar value per volunteer hour, that’s over $1.3 million in labor! If you were to divide it even further, it’s the equivalent of 28 full time staff members, nearly quintupling our capacity.” Now take that and extrapolate it across the state and it’s an incredible number of volunteers and hours!

Individuals doing trailwork
Photo courtesy of Don Williams

She goes on to say, “Beyond the work that gets accomplished, being a part of a volunteer crew, either on the trail or off the trail, is meaningful and fun. Many crews are like family to each other, supporting and working in the good times and the bad.” “It was inspiring to see over 50 volunteers hacking away at the hillside to flatten a trail through the woods,” said hiker Becka Walling. “These folks have a big vision for the trail. It feels fantastic to be a part of something that people care about, like the MST.”

Eating lunch after doing trailwork in the woods
Photo Courtesy of Don Williams

As Earth Day approaches, many people are looking for ways to give back to the trails and local communities, and volunteering with an organization to do trailwork is one of the best things that anyone can do. There are events happening from one end of the state to the other so there’s no shortage of opportunity for getting involved.

While trailwork sounds hard, and it certainly can be, it doesn’t have to be. Most of the time, people would tell you that it’s fun and rewarding! Here are a few of our favorite reasons for getting out and getting involved:

  1. You get to connect with nature. Trailwork takes place in the outdoors. You’ll get to take in the scenery, hear the birds chirping, streams moving, and wind blowing through the trees. You’ll also get plenty of fresh air!
  2. You get to move outside and get in some exercise! Digging, moving rocks, lumber for a bridge, or gravel for a path isn’t easy, but with teamwork it’s not that hard either!
  3. About that teamwork – you’re going to meet new people! Getting involved and volunteering for trailwork is a great way to meet others with common interests and goals. Who knows, you may make a new best friend!
  4. You’ll likely learn something new. No matter how much trailwork you have or haven’t done, there are unique solutions to lots of trail issues that need work and every situation is different. “How do we get this water off of the trail?” “Where should we move these rocks to improve the tread?” “How can we help make this section of trail safer?” Learning how trails are maintained will give you an entirely new perspective on every trail you go on!
  5. You get to give back to your community. Trails are critical here in The Great Trails State and there’s no way they would be maintained without volunteers (like you). There are few feelings better than revisiting a trail that you helped build or improve months or years later knowing that you had a part in it and that other people were able to enjoy the fruits of your labor!

No matter what part of the state you’re in, we want to invite you to get involved on any of your local trails and see what kind of difference you can make. Whether it’s this weekend, next week, next month, or later in the year, make it a goal to get out and volunteer!

There are lots of organizations across the state to volunteer with – check out our events page here on greattrailsnc.com to find one near you!