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Aug 29 2018

What Trail Stewardship Means to Me

Our 2018 Seasonal Trail Steward shares her thoughts on trail work, advocacy, and backcountry mac & cheese

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This summer, I had the privilege of co-leading MWA’s volunteer trail crew (VTC), working with and learning from MWA’s trail wizards Sonny Mazzullo and Matt Bowser and the incredible volunteers that make our trail work possible.

From VTC World Headquarters in Whitefish, we tackled projects in different corners of Montana, giving me the chance to explore regions of our state that I had previously only read about despite growing up in Bozeman. Whether it was the wild and remote Cabinet Mountains, history-rich Lewis and Clark Pass, or the picturesque Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, every project was truly special, leaving me with memories that I’ll cherish for years to come. 

Of course, my haul of memories came with plenty of learning opportunities. On the trail, I learned how to safely handle a crosscut saw and build a bridge worthy of stock travel. And in camp, I learned how to make a deathly-delicious backcountry mac and cheese dinner. No matter where I was, my summer gave me the chance to practice clear and concise communication, a skill that’s as important in camp as it is on the trail. 

Even more than these skills, though, I concluded this summer with an expanded appreciation for Montana’s public lands and the people - often volunteers - that care for them.

On every project I was amazed by the hours and elbow grease necessary to keep our trails functional. Not one trip ended without at least one volunteer exclaiming something along the lines of, “I had no idea how much effort goes into maintaining a mile of trail!” As far as I could tell, each volunteer walked away from a project with hearty gratitude for the work and effort fellow volunteers, agency employees, and organizations like MWA invest in keeping our wild places accessible to all who desire solitude, adventure. 

This summer, however, proved to me that all that effort is rewarded twofold. Trails are more than a means for recreation and more than routes to scenic places. They serve as a conduit between the land and ourselves, a connection us and the places that shape us. Whether you are a parent who cherishes teaching your child to bow hunt; a fishing guide whose job relies on healthy headwaters; or someone like myself who never feels more at peace than when idling alongside a high alpine lake, as Montanans we all share a connection to the land that nurtures, supports, and protects our way of life. 

Trail work deepens this connection and establishes reciprocity - giving back to the land that gives us so much. It’s easy to fall in love with the view from the top of Lewis and Clark Pass, but when you help build a waterbar to prevent trail erosion, pride takes its place alongside awe. Watching volunteers admire the results of a long day’s work was a daily reminder of this phenomenon.

That reciprocity, as well as trail work’s reliance on cooperation, are important parts of building a network of public land givers and receivers and of wilderness advocates. For example, we met a multitude of thru-hikers while working along the Continental Divide Trail this summer, and our work provided a natural opportunity to talk with them about the Wilderness Area they were hiking through and public land issues in Montana, things these hikers otherwise wouldn’t have heard about. In subtle ways like this, MWA’s stewardship program plays a key role in building and expanding a cooperative and productive public lands advocacy network.    
The chance for outdoor enthusiasts to get their hands dirty and give back to the wild places we all love - the chance to combine advocacy and stewardship - is an amazing way to curate love and respect for our public lands. To me, there’s no better way to do that than with a pulaski in hand! 

My parting words are a shout out to all of MWA’s present and past volunteers: Thank you for making this summer illuminating, fulfilling, and, most importantly, fun. Our public lands thank you!

- Haley Roe was MWA's 2018 seasonal trail steward. She grew up in Bozeman and is currently studying environmental policy at Middlebury College 

MWA season trail steward Haley Roe