How to Give Back to the Trails You Love

On June 3, lend a hand or hike a local trail.

Once a year, the American Hiking Society organizes National Trails Day, an event intended to encourage hikers across the country to trek trails and volunteer to help maintain them. From urban parks to remote wildlands, every trail experience cultivates a unique story. We asked American Hiking Society ambassador Shawnté Salabert about hiking solo, advocating to protect trails, and what she loves about getting outside on National Trails Day.

Why are you stoked on National Trails Day?

When you participate in something like National Trails Day, you are stepping into a community of like-minded folks.

Hiking naturally lends itself to solitude, but what are some perks to getting out with a group of like-minded folks?

I am a fan of both solo and group hiking, although I think with the latter, it’s important to keep the groups small enough so that they don’t impact other people’s outdoor experience. Also, this allows group members to bond with one another while they’re out there connecting with the land.

I recently led my first trail crew on an American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacation in Stanislaus National Forest, near Yosemite National Park. I loved working with the Forest Service and with the thirteen other volunteers on the trip. We bonded over trail work, but also over shared meals, pre-dinner yoga, and post-dinner puzzles.

Photo: Shawnté Salabert

Trails can provide fun and transformative experiences for anyone willing to take a journey, long or short. What are some lessons you’ve learned on the trail?

Two years ago, I began doing fieldwork for a book I wrote about section hiking the Southern and Central California portions of the Pacific Crest Trail. I was nervous about spending two months on the trail by myself—although, really, it’s hard to be totally alone on such a popular trail. Leading up to that trip, I heard a lot of naysaying: “Aren’t you worried? Aren’t you scared going alone as a woman?” and hated the implication that somehow, my gender made me less capable of taking care of myself out on the trail. What I found during those two months is that I was more than capable, that being out there was a badge of honor. That when confronted with bears, mountain lions, lightning, or snow, I was strong enough (mentally and physically) to handle all of it.

How do you give back to the trail? 

It’s really important to give back to the places that give so much to us. I’m a big fan of participating in stewardship, especially when it comes to trail maintenance. I think a lot of people don’t realize just how much work goes into keeping our trails open; we’re talking thousands of volunteer hours on each and every maintained trail! Mother Nature would gladly reclaim it all if left to her own devices. When you take some time out to pitch in, you’re doing a service for everyone who enjoys hiking—and everyone who might discover they enjoy it down the line.

What are you expecting from NTD this year?

I’m looking forward to seeing people enjoying the outdoors on National Trails Day, whether that’s via stewardship projects or hiking. I will be at an REI event at Crystal Lake in the San Gabriel Mountains near LA. It is going to be a ton of fun with trail work, hiking, and mini-clinics of Map and Compass and Wilderness Survival.

Want to celebrate National Trails Day, too? Find an event in your own backyard.

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