What, you thought trails just grew naturally in the woods?

Before this weekend, I used to appreciate the work that goes into maintaining Washington’s mighty trail system…in theory. Then I spent a day on one of Washington Trails Association’s volunteer trail crews. Rest assured that my gratitude—not to mention my sore muscles—was a little more concrete come Monday.

The nonprofit WTA sponsors one- and multi-day trail work crews across the state. This week alone, they’ll attack the Tunnel Creek Trail in the Olympics, the foot-and-bike Chocwich Trail near Darrington, Cape Horn Trail in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, and more. Signups are online; all you need are long pants and boots, and paid crew leaders provide everything else. You can even score a Northwest Forest day or annual pass for your elbow grease.

They don’t call it a work party for nothing: The day was a blast. When we started at 8:30am, WTA leaders handed out hard hats, demonstrated tool use, and gave a safety lecture consisting of a fair number of groanworthy puns and jokes. A few miles up the Denny Creek Trail, we took brush whips to the overgrowth on either side of the popular route. For those who step gingerly in wilderness areas, there’s something eminently satisfying about attacking brambles and taking out whole swaths of ferns. And Devil’s Club? Mowing that down was pure catharsis.

I’ll be returning to a WTA work crew in the future. Because I met cool people and paid back to the world-class Washington’s trail system? Nah. Because after you do five days of volunteering, you get your very own monogrammed hard hat.

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