American Hiking Society, the country’s leading advocate for the promotion and protection of foot trails and the hiking experience, is now accepting 2006 registrations for its popular Volunteer Vacations program, a series of week-long trail maintenance projects that improve the condition and enhance the beauty of hiking trails on public lands. Now in its 28th season, this unique eco-travel program offers outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers of all skill levels the opportunity to explore America’s wild places, give something back to the trails they love, and rejuvenate their own mind, body and spirit.
The 2006 season kicks off in early January with four back-to-back projects in Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona. Volunteers will harvest and replant Cacti and perform general trail maintenance in the Tucson Mountain District of the Park. Other projects include blazing a new 2-mile trail to a recently discovered 360-foot waterfall in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in northern California or constructing a foot bridge along the scenic Palmetto Trail in South Carolina. Locally, the Tennessee River Gorge Trust will host a trip from March 19-25 to construct a new trail just outside of Chattanooga.
A typical day on a Volunteer Vacation consists of 6-7 hours of trail work followed by free time to explore the local surroundings. Evenings are spent dining and getting to know new friends around a campfire. There are currently 20 confirmed trips in 10 states to kick off the 2006 Volunteer Vacation season.
Volunteer Vacations are rated by difficulty level, ranging from ‘easy’ to ‘extremely strenuous,’ however no previous trail work experience is required. Each crew consists of 6-15 volunteers accompanied by a crew leader. Accommodations also vary, from front country campgrounds or cabins to backcountry primitive campsites. The cost is $130 which includes a one-year membership in American Hiking Society. Food and airport pick-up is provided on most trips. Travel-related expenses are tax-deductible.
For the third year, REI, a national outdoor retail cooperative, is supporting American Hiking Society’s Volunteer Vacations as the program’s lead sponsor. Environmental stewardship is at the core of REI’s business. The company supports many national outdoor conservation and recreation programs, and each of its 78 store partners with local groups on community service projects. REI stores are an excellent resource for trip planning materials such as guidebooks and maps, and they also offer camping equipment rental services. American Hiking also receives support from the USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and several outdoor gear companies whose sponsorship of the program helps keep trip registration costs for participants to a minimum.
For a complete list of the winter and spring 2006 projects, visit www.AmericanHiking.org or your local REI store (visit www.rei.com to find a store near you). American Hiking will release its complete 2006 trip schedule totaling 100 trips in November. For more information about Volunteer Vacations and to register for a trip, contact Shirley Hearn, Volunteer Programs Manager, at 800-972-8608, extension 206 or visit the Society’s website.
[Editor's Note: Photos and details on each trip are available.]