Volunteers help dig Iron Bill Trail for Basin Recreation’s National Trails Day
On Saturday, the American Hiking Society held its annual National Trails Day, a celebration of the nation’s trails, usually recognized by maintenance days. Summit County was host to several such celebrations. Basin Recreation and the Mountain Trails Foundation hosted trail building days, along with the Wasatch Mountain State Park.
At Basin Recreation’s Iron Bill Trail, volunteers worked under sunny skies to complete a 1,500-foot section of trail needed for a reroute around the new athlete housing facilities at the Utah Olympic Park.
According to Bob Radke, volunteer turnout has declined in recent years, from a peak of 70 volunteers. This year’s 30-person crew was a good turnout compared with the event’s most sparse years, he said, in which he’s sometimes had only a handful.
As for their reasons for getting off the couch and donating their time to local trails, the crew’s reasons ranged from personal to institutional.
And while Radke said the organization relies mostly on its paid, trained trail crew, he said Saturday’s project was a good fit for volunteers.
“This is valuable work today,” he said. “What they are going to get done for us today is huge for us.”
Just down the trail from Radke, Barbara Siegel was smoothing the trail with a rake, removing any rocks and sticks so the trail could be tamped down.
As a Park City resident, she said she has used the trail system for many years.
“It was an opportunity to get out on a nice day and give back for all the hard work that Basin Rec and Mountain Trails do for us,” she said.
Siegel said she frequently volunteers with the National Ability Center, hosting biking and skiing groups, which she does as a way of repaying what other volunteers have brought into her life.
“I have two children with disabilities and when they were growing up there were a lot of other volunteers that made life really special for us; and my kids are now grown and this is my way of giving back,” she said.
Though she usually hikes, Siegel recently bought a mountain bike and hopes to explore the local trail system in a new way.
“I’m a beginner mountain biker, so I will probably be down on RTS,” she said. “Iron Bill (trail) is something that I will aspire to.”
On the other side of the section being maintained, Aiden Rasmussen, a sophomore at the Winter Sports School, was using a McLeod tool – a hoe with a flat panel for tamping down soil – and had come to Trails Day as a way of completing the service hours necessary to qualify for the National Honor Society.
But Saturday was also Rasmussen’s fifth year as a volunteer at a National Trails Day event, and as competitive mountain biker, working on biking trails was a natural fit. Rasmussen said he doesn’t consider the day a chore.
“It’s just kind of fun to move dirt,” he said. “I don’t know how to explain it; I just enjoy it.”
Rasmussen said the first year he volunteered for National Trails Day he worked with Mountain Trails Foundation to help build the Ramble On bike trail in Round Valley.
“Every time I ride the trail I think, ‘Hey, I made that switchback,’” he said. “I think that’s one reason that I like to come back and ride it.”
Nearby, Leslie Masters and her husband, Bob Martin, were packing dirt over the trail. They picked up clumps of grass that had been removed, set them on the trail then trod the dirt out of their root balls.
Masters then leaned down to remove the leftover grass.
“You don’t want the organics, because they will decompose and leave a hole,” she said.
Both had extensive experience volunteering on trails. Siegel said she started trailbuilding in California in 1975, and has been doing trail work ever since.
Martin said he volunteered for Cuyamaca Rancho State Park in San Diego County, building and maintaining mountain bike trails for 15 years, which he started after the park closed one of his favorite trails.
After moving to Park City in 2010, both took their volunteering to the next level and became trail ambassadors for Basin Recreation. In exchange for passes to the Basin Recreation Fieldhouse, the two are required to hike the organization’s trails for four hours per week, serving as an extra pair of eyes and ears for the organization.
“We mountain bike, walk, ski, and snowshoe trails in winter and summer,” Siegel said. “We look for downed trees; we look for noxious weeds; we notify Basin Rec of any erosion issues; if anybody is camping in the woods.”
Siegel likened National Trails Day to Easter or Christmas, saying everyone comes together for the good of something bigger then themselves.
“You spend one day with Aunt Bertha once a year; you can do one day putting a trail in, that you use all the time, for free,” she said.
Martin suspects that some people simply hope things will happen for them without working.
“Sometimes you just have to do it yourself,” he said.
Leslie chimed in: “And if you’re complaining about something, then change it,” she said. “Write letters, come out, do the work, donate to these foundations that maintain the trails. If you don’t like it, be part of the solution.”
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