WTA Trail Work Party

6:30am Saturday morning and we’re out the door heading to Mt.Rainier National Park for our first trail maintenance WTA work party.  We didn’t know what to expected but we were excited, plus it was National Trails Day, so we were doubly excited because it felt extra special.  Our directions were: Drive under the Mt.Rainier sign and continue for 4 miles until you come to the double wide shoulders, if you come to the Park gates, you’ve gone too far.  As we were passing shoulders we were trying to decide if they were considered double wide…nope those look like your average shoulders. Finally, we rounded a bend and met about 25 people at 8:30 at the double wide shoulders. Success!

WTA work party at White River Mt. Rainier National Park

The work crew

Once we met up with everyone we circled ’round and got to know each other and the rules of the trail: Safety, Fun, then Work! We learned the names of all the tools and how to carry and use them properly. We were also in the presence of a 5-timer volunteer so he was awarded his own personalized hard hat (oohhh, ahhhh).  We hit the trail by 9:00 after our briefing, and hiked ¾ of a mile to the boardwalk we were there to restore!

Nick and Angelina at WTA work Party at Mt.Rainier National Park trail day

Feeling safe and having fun

We got put on the soil and rock gathering team.  Nick dug for mineral soil, while Angelina sent it down the zipline in buckets. The soil beneath the boardwalk needs to be inorganic so it wouldn’t absorb water, and promote growth. Alan, one of the assistant crew leaders (blue hatter) had the brilliant idea of setting up a zipline so we wouldn’t have to haul the rock and soil to the boardwalk.

Sending rock down a zip line at Mt.Rainier National Park

Sending the rock down the line

At 10:15 we received our paycheck, fun-sized Twix & Snickers. We worked until noon & then everyone sat down and got to know each other over lunch. We sat by James the park ranger, who let us pick his brain about what he does as a park ranger and how he ended up in his career, as well as his previous work as a commercial fisherman all along the Pacific coast.

Lunch break for Ranger James at Mt.Rainier National Park

Another day at the office for Ranger James

After lunch we had a fun team-building exercise where we got to make a fire-line passing along planks of freshly split cedar up a 200 yard hill.  It was cool to see how much material could be moved in a short amount of time when working as a cohesive team.

Then we switched up the routine to learn some new trades. Nick went deep into the forest’s belly to chop freshly fallen cedar. Ranger Sam’s beard schooled Nick in the back-breaking art of splitting fallen tees using wedges and sledge hammers, how to let gravity help you do the work, and how to read the wood grain for more efficient splitting.

Learning how to split logs at Mt.Rainier National Park

Getting schooled on how to split logs

Angelina joined the demo-team and tore down the previous boardwalk. Using crowbars to pull out the stakes, and corona saws to cut through the logs. As she was halfway through a log, we found out we weren’t supposed to cut that one…James saw the disappointed look on her face & told her to finish cutting the log and we’d come up with a plan B.

There is so much going on beneath those little boardwalks you cross without a thought. First you need to stack big rocks for water to run through freely. Then smaller rocks on top of that, followed by the mineral soil. The soil needs to be arching over the logs that have been laid on either side of the rocks. This allows for rainfall to hit and fall to the sides of the boardwalk, instead of pooling beneath the logs and damaging the newly laid boardwalk. Finally, all that cedar that Nick and others split cover the boardwalk for an easy pass for hikers.

Carrying a log with Swede Hooks at Mt.Rainier National Park

Making use of the Swede Hooks

The final task of the day was huffing a 30-foot-long log about 600 feet up the hill using Swede-hooks and manpower. The tree wasn’t too happy about being moved so it required some finagling and tough lovin’ to get it through the dense forest and situated into the boardwalk.

Carrying a log with Swede Hooks at Mt.Rainier National Park

Hoofing logs

Then we made one more fire-line to cache the tools for the next day of work. We hiked back down to some cookies & refreshments. After chit-chatting for a while we moseyed on over to Silver Springs and set up camp for the night.

Boardwalk of fresh cedar at Mt.Rainier National Park

Days end

All in all, the day was a lot of hard work and consumed about 7 hours on a Saturday, but it was completely worth it! WTA is right, these trail days really feel like a Work Party where it’s about having fun and making friends with like minded people, as well as giving back to the Parks and trails that give so much to us. We can’t wait to get out on our next trail day and we hope to see you there! If you have any questions or are curious about getting involved feel free to reach out to us.

To see a schedule of upcoming trail parties, head over to WTA (Washington Trails Association).

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