How to Pay Your Trail Dues

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Looking for an easy way to give back? Outside’s Find Your Good program connects donors with influential charities doing important work across the outdoor world.

Did you know that developing professionally built trails can cost as much as $15,000-40,000 per mile? Or that it takes thousands of man-hours to maintain existing trails? There is a lot of work that goes into creating, protecting and maintaining the trails we all love to hike, but our trails don’t always have the resources they need to stay maintained and safe to use.

The good news: you can help. Yes, you: With your voluntary commitment you can offset your own consumption and keep your favorite areas viable for future generations of hikers. Here are six ways you can give back.

Join Search and Rescue

If you’ve ever been in a precarious situation in the backcountry, you know how terrifying it is to be far from help. Search and rescue organizations operate across the country to rescue people in distress from dangerous or deadly situations. Most of the country’s SAR workers are volunteers: joining a search and rescue team allows you to develop new skills, but it also allows you to have a direct impact on the lives of hikers who need help most. Depending on the program you join, you may even be eligible for subsidized training and certification.

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Find a trail crew

Want to get really comfortable with a chainsaw? Have you always wanted to learn how to build a bridge? If you’re someone who likes to get your hands dirty, consider joining a trail crew. Trail crews do everything from bush cutting to bridge building. Each project requires different skills. Trail crews may meet for a daily trip, but also frequently head into the wilderness for overnight trips to complete important trail projects, allowing you to mix hard work with recreation.

Organizations such as the Colorado Trail Foundation offer a schedule of trail crew events throughout the year, giving you the opportunity to choose the ones that sound most appealing to you. Depending on the style and length of the project, you may pay a small fee to cover expenses like groceries. Those who wish to be paid for their efforts can apply for a job with the Conservation Corps or Forest Service. If you want, you can even sign up for a volunteer vacation with an organization like the American Hiking Society to give back with your PTO.

Look for scavenging opportunities

You don’t have to wait until Earth Day to take part in a cleanup. Most cities and recreation departments have year-round cleanups, making them super accessible. Participating in a cleanup could be a good voluntary option for someone who wants to give back to the trails without committing to a regular schedule or traveling far from home. A good place to find current tidying opportunities is on the EPA website. Nothing near you? You don’t need anyone’s permission to pick up rubbish: grab a bag, head to the trailhead and go there.

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Help promote good administration

One of the best ways to protect the environment is to encourage a sense of responsibility among the younger generation. Find an organization like Leave no trace that teaches new and experienced hikers how to lessen their impact. Some Leave No Trace events can teach children how to minimize their footprint while enjoying the great outdoors. Colorado youth outdoors may also offer volunteer teaching opportunities for those interested in giving back.

Donate to your favorite trail organizations

Not everyone has the time or ability to volunteer to maintain the trails, but they may have resources to share. By making a donation to your favorite trail organization, they can continue to support hikers and trails. Some organizations even offer memberships, which usually involve paying an annual fee to support certain programs. (Looking for a good starting point? Outside’s Find Your Good program connects donors to vetted charities from around the world.)

Remember that donations don’t always have to be money. You can donate gear to organizations like outdoor for everyone, Walk forwardand Teens to Trails. And these organizations often distribute the equipment to underserved communities.

Create your own volunteer group

Let’s face it: we see catastrophic ecological damage around the world every day. From rampant wildfires to water shortages to hurricane damage, there is always something being destroyed. If you want to give back to the trail community but live in an area that doesn’t have established volunteer opportunities, you should consider starting your own group to address specific issues in your area. In this way, you may be able to fill a need that has not been met before. It can be as simple as getting some friends together and getting in touch with your local land managers to see what you can do.

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