May 22, 2019 may be a day that lives in infamy within the trail community. On this date Outsider published an article making claim that trail runners are parasites within the world of development, rehabilitation, and environmental protection of our trails.
Needless to say the comments made were not necessarily well received by many among the masses. On the other hand though; there were specific individuals within my own niche that questioned, “But was the author wrong?”
Consider this not a rebuttal, not a compliment, but merely a modest proposal to the trail running community (especially our new runners that continue to show up because for some reason they enjoying nearly dying on any given Midwest summer evening).
Merely…I call it the 1:1 challenge…
It’s very simple, and I picked it up from my first year volunteering at High Lonesome 100 near Salida, Colorado. There, one of our medics on site was speaking to me on the topic in the pleasant rain shower of that specific hour. She informed me that she is a trail runner, but she divides her time. For every race that she partakes in, she then gives back (usually in the form of medical) for a race. This creates a reciprocal approach when enjoying the world around us, because let’s be honest, we do all of this for more than a medal, a sticker, and a new hat (…well…most of us).
There is more than just building and maintaining trails that are needed within our community; so I’d like to present you with three potential areas of inclusion to be a part of the bigger wilderness conservation picture:
While this is easily the easiest way of giving back to the community, it is often overlooked. Make no mistake; I am not beyond a crisp Jefferson in my pocket. In some ways it almost feels guilty to just ‘give money’ versus physically doing anything of value. However, I think this is a stigma that we must remove. Many trail rehabilitation groups, such as the Colorado 14ers Initiative, request both time and resources to continue their projects. Let’s not forget that a good chunk of these organizations are non-for-profits, and practically live off of the financial ability of the rest of the populous.
Plus, if you’re a complete, extreme introvert, you can give online without having to speak to a single person…if that’s your cup of tea.
Additionally, it isn’t always the resources going into the trails specifically, but also the people that are frequently on them. The Barr Trail Mountain Race in Manitou Springs, Colorado sets apart some of the race fees directly to benefit the El Paso County Search & Rescue; a non-profit that literally saves lives along the mountain side. Just last week, I came across a hiker who had severely dislocated (along with other things) their ankle heading down Barr Trail. I watched EPCSAR show up with a ‘box’, stretcher, mountain bike wheel for the stretcher (it was cool), along with 12 other people just to get this one hiker safely down the mountain and to the hospital. The craziest part out of all of that? The hiker will not be charged a dime by EPCSAR; they work 100% on donations and grants.
If I’m speaking from personal experience; this is an area where I lack the most. When it comes to actually building, repairing, or maintaining the physical trails I can become very confused. Confusion leads to hesitation, hesitation leads to excuses, excuses gets me out of working on trails. That’s my brutal honesty to you.
I lived on this cycle until last summer. Moving along with some of the High Lonesome 100 members, I found myself up Quandary Peak with the Colorado 14ers Initiative, rebuilding part of the hiking trail towards the summit. I knew absolutely nothing about trail building, rock splitting, laying, etc…Thankfully, I was with professionals who knew exactly what they were doing, and patiently guided me step-by-step to ensure everything was done correctly.
It can be a confusing process.
What’s confusing? Well, if you’ve ever ventured out onto a trail, there is a science that goes into understanding how the trail is to be set. A few questions to consider:
This is just the beginning of the trail process. It can be overwhelming, and at the same time a great excuse to avoid the work.
Take heart though! Groups like Urban Trail Co. here in Flyover land, create a volunteer sheet tailored specific to your desires, interests, and possibly…fears. Even local trail groups within different regions of the United States have opportunities to serve. In some instances, such as the Lawrence Trail Hawks out of Lawrence, Kansas, will likely be gearing up for the repairs needed at Clinton Lake due to recent, seasonal flooding. For others, such as High Lonesome 100, trail days are part of registration requirements.
The reality is this; the organizations exist, the trained professionals are alive, and honestly when it comes to trail work…all of us (including me)…should take some time to lace up and get dirty.
Volunteering is arguably one of the most beneficial experience a trail runner (especially a new one) can experience. Not only are you watching runners, who paid for an event, base their survival by your hands…but you can enjoy all of this with a smile on your face.
While the idea of race volunteering doesn’t necessarily, directly pertain to the upkeep of a specific trail; it does build in you this ongoing appreciation of what you have, and what is needed in order to keep it.
Personally, when I was running around on the trails; it was a great, dizzy, sweat-inducing experience. When the sun went down though, and the lights came on, and I was watching this runner trying to get to mile 66 before cutoff. That’s when I started to really fall in love with the community. The notion of watching humans do amazing things never gets old. When we volunteer, we get the entire experience. It is no longer our race, it is our community, our world. In realizing this, it creates a pride of upkeep that stirs within the heart of any runner. Whether it be removing one pesky widow-maker, a quick, approved reroute, or even stringing a rope along floodwaters for other runners, there’s always something more that can be done.
In the end there are limitless opportunities to serve in the world that so many of us have come to love. We just have to look, step outside of our comfort zone, utilize some free time, and make our community a little bit stronger.
The challenge is that for each race you find yourself running in (because you will and it will be glorious) make an effort to take another date to spend time outside of the moment of running, and in the opportunity to be a part of something bigger.
It is not about mountain biking, trail running, horse riding, underwater basket weaving, or anything else within these strange likes.
It is about being human, understanding the world we have been given, and as cliche as it is…just doing the right thing.