June is National Trails Month, and so, the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation thinks it is the perfect time for you to show your love for trails by giving back to them through service. Thankfully, there are many opportunities across Pennsylvania to help build new trails, maintain existing ones, and be a voice for trails at the state and federal funding levels.
The Need for Volunteers Is More Acute than Ever
Given the pandemic, many volunteer groups across the state did not hold routine monthly trail work events. But issues such as seasonal flooding, erosion, and invasive species did not go away. In fact, given the larger influx of visitors to many state parks and forests in 2020 (which is still going on), damage to trails from people making short cuts and hiking off trail made things even worse. That all created a greater need for volunteers now that social distancing rules have been relaxed. Thankfully, there are many opportunities for you to get involved in repairing and rebuilding trails across Pennsylvania.
The following are just a few examples of opportunities being hosted by some of the 47 State Park and Forest Friends Groups in the Commonwealth:
The Friends of Buchanan State Forest maintain a variety of shared-use trails across the Sideling Hill and Martin Hill tracts. In addition to typical tree clearing and mowing, they have done one major stream crossing project on Jackson Trail and hope to do more in the future. The group schedules at least three routine workdays per year, in addition to as-needed workdays. The next is schedule for June 19, followed by September 18. Anyone interested in helping can contact them for details on their Facebook page.
The Lackawanna State Park Trail Crew performs a wide variety of trail maintenance activities including bridge repairs, creating new trails, planting trees, and rebuilding rock walls. They are planning a new pedestrian and bike access under a new PennDOT bridge, thereby linking the trail system without having to use a portion of the road. They are also currently undertaking a 1.5-mile trail expansion, with another 1.5 miles in the pipeline, taking their trail system to 30 miles total.
The Friends of Nockamixon State Park maintain seven hiking and horseback riding trails that stretch approximately 45 miles in total. All these trails need trimming, mowing, or hand trimming where mowers cannot go. Since January, the group has also removed more than 250 trees that fell across the trails.
The Friends of Ohiopyle State Park keeps busy replacing foot bridges, removing trees, improving drainage to prevent erosion on trails, and much more. It’s a big park! There is always a need for volunteers to help with maintenance, especially as severe weather ramps up, making trail rehab more urgent. They welcome new volunteers at any time, so check their Facebook page on how to join.
The Friends of Ridley Creek State Park have a standing open invitation for volunteers to join them the first Saturday of every month. There may be five to 25 people participating in a given season. Work includes keeping trails clear of brush in the growing season, as well as erosion control, blazing, and other routine maintenance. Occasionally they have made minor trail re-routes and installed small foot bridges.
“Unless we the volunteers come out to maintain our public use trails there might not be as many in the future,” said Dorene Beckley, Secretary for the Buchanan friends group. “There is no better way to get fresh air and enjoy the relaxation of being in nature than doing some trail work!”
Can’t Volunteer? You Can Still Go for a Hike!
We recognize that not everyone has the time or physical ability to cut down trees, move large rocks, and build fences. However, given the wide variety of paved and unpaved trails across Pennsylvania, ranging from short and easy to long and challenging, just about anyone can go for a “hike”.
“Each park has its own unique array of trails and features,” said Andrea Funyak-Fedak , a long-time volunteer for the Friends of Ohiopyle. “If you aren’t sure where to go, ask at the visitor center which trail might be best for you based off of the time you have, your mobility level, and what you want to see.”
Here are some things to keep in mind before you go… Our parks and forests continue to see high use, so if going out, have a backup plan in case your chosen trail is busy and/or the parking lot is full. Creating our own parking spaces when lots are full adversely impacts trees, increases erosion, and can cause traffic problems.
Longtime Friends of Ridley Creek State Park volunteer, Gary Sawyer, says that “Trail use is a great learning experience for families to discover sights, smells, and sounds they would not otherwise notice in a park. But people need to remember to be respectful by leashing your pet, not littering, and adhering to restrictions on the use of mountain bikes, where they exist.”
Another veteran volunteer for Lackawanna State Park, Joe Tierney, concurs. “Respect the trail builders and how the trails are designed. Please do not change or short cut trails, or hike during very wet and muddy conditions. Come out and help maintain the trails… they are your playground too!”
And remember, hiking and mountain biking can provide you with great health benefits, including weight loss, lower blood pressure, reduced stress and anxiety levels, and much more! To see more benefits of getting healthy outdoor recreation, check out the infographic at https://paparksandforests.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/get-healthy.pdf.
For more guidance on proper trail etiquette, check out the Leave No TraceTM principles at www.lnt.org. To find other Friends Groups near you, please visit https://paparksandforests.org/friends-groups/current-chapters, and to find other trail related activities and opportunities, go to https://paparksandforests.org/events.