We all like to play outside, and for a huge variety of reasons: exercise, mental health, and for some of us, even, it’s like going to church. It also means we’re part of a community, and it’s no secret that the trails we love require constant maintenance to stay in great shape. This season—no matter where you live or what you love to do—you can do your part in any number of ways.
1. Be a Steward
Think of your favorite trail—the first place you go when you’ve got some time on a Saturday morning. You notice when it’s rutted or muddy, and chances are, there’s a local stewardship group that spruces it up when it’s in need of some TLC.
Stewardship organizations build relationships with land managers, organize volunteers, and manage logistics for trail building and maintenance projects—and they’re always looking for volunteers, technically skilled or not, to do the heavy lifting.
American Trails maintains a national list of stewardship orgs. Find one in your neck of the woods who will empower you to care for the places you love to play. No time to volunteer for a full day or weekend? Even the smallest actions—picking up trash as you hike your favorite trail, for example—can have a big impact. If you live in Colorado and you need a little guidance, check out Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado’s one-of-a-kind YourCO app. Download the free app to your smartphone to earn badges by completing do-it-yourself stewardship tasks, and share on social media to encourage your friends to participate, too.
2. Be a Mentor
Remember all those reasons you love to get outside? Everyone—regardless of geography or economic status—deserves a chance to have those experiences. That’s the philosophy that drives Big City Mountaineers , which partners with local community-based youth organizations to get kids out of the city and into the places we love to recreate. BCM youth are part of community programs like residential placement facilities, after-school programs, foster care, or group homes, and live in economically or socially depressed areas where they otherwise wouldn’t be introduced to the backcountry.
Each weeklong backpacking or canoe trip—BCM runs programming in the Rockies, Pacific Northwest, and Midwest—has a one-to-one kid-to-adult ratio: five teens, an instructor, an agency leader, and three adult mentors. The organization also offers overnight programming for eight- to twelve-year-olds, run by BCM staffers and assisted by adult volunteers.
That’s where you come in: BCM volunteers make it possible for the organization to deliver programming that improves kids’ self-esteem, responsibility, and communication skills. Not a kid person? You can still help out: their Summit for Someone program enables folks to raise funds for vital programming by climbing big peaks all over the country—or heading to Everest Base Camp. Visit their website to find out how you can get involved.
3. Be an Ambassador
Climbers get a bad rap. So do mountain bikers and boaters—some of our favorite activities have the greatest impact on the spaces we do them in. Sure, you probably pack out your trash and steer clear of trails when they’re muddy, but unfortunately, not everyone does. You can help maintain access to your favorite crags and trails by role modeling those behaviors: make a point of using WAG bags where they’re required, avoid creating social trails, yield the right of way to other users.
Looking to do more? Many user groups have dedicated organizations who work to preserve the sport’s reputation. Climbers can check out local events organized by the Access Fund; mountain bikers should look into volunteering with a local chapter of the International Mountain Bicycling Association; boaters can organize or participate in community river cleanup days. No matter your favorite sport, it’s up to each of us to be good ambassadors for the activities we love.