By Alana Livingston
To spend time outdoors as a volunteer on public lands and trails is a healthy, family-friendly activity for all.
Recently, while hiking at the Waikiki Springs Nature Preserve, located northwest Spokane County, my son asked, “Can I lead the way today?” My family was starting down the Waikiki Trail towards the first switchback. I noticed the darkened Oregon grapes on the trailside and the browning of the once-gorgeous oceanspray bushes as I followed behind.
Rounding the second switchback, we could hear the sound of the water and the trail began to open up a bit. We said hello to the few walkers we saw out for evening strolls with their dogs and took in the view at the next switchback that stretches out beyond the river to Rattlesnake Ridge. I love to hike in the evening.
My family recently became volunteer land stewards for the Inland Northwest Land Conservancy (INLC). In this new role, we are able to spend time together as a family, exercising and breathing fresh air as we look after a place we love, Waikiki Springs Nature Preserve. As land stewards for the INLC, we help to design and complete habitat enhancement projects, monitor trails, educate public land users and note wildlife vegetation and hydrologic trends on the land.
We have always spent time hiking at Waikiki Springs, but since becoming stewards we are spending time learning more about the area—the plants, the animals, the Little Spokane River that runs through it, and how we can take better care of it all.
We are getting better at using maps, observing and taking notes, using a compass and basic first aid practices. We are learning and practicing good trail etiquette, the effects of not following these rules, and sharing it with others. We are experiencing what it feels like to be active in our community and to think and act beyond ourselves and see the bigger picture.
A lesson we didn’t expect but I have grown increasingly appreciative of is to be intentional with our time. Now we schedule our busy lives around our commitment to this place. In a fast-paced world where we tend to put self care and mental health on the back burner, I am happy to have found something that checks so many boxes on the health and fitness list.
If you are anything like me, when someone says “health and fitness” images of gym memberships, health magazines, and the latest diet fad runs through your mind. I say let the outdoors be your gym and allow your time exercising to be for more than just your body. As a parent, I am happy to have the opportunity to model all of these life lessons by exploring an amazing place with my kids.
Volunteer Opportunities in the Inland NW
In the Inland Northwest, there are a number of organizations with volunteer opportunities to shape your outdoor fitness regime. Groups include: The Lands Council, The Spokane Riverkeeper, Dishman Hills Conservancy, Friends of The Little Spokane River Valley, Washington Trails Association, Friends of the Bluff, Evergreen East, Idaho Trails Association, and Pend Oreille Pedalers.
Many parks also have “friends of” groups with more opportunities. All of these organizations offer events such as clean ups, plantings, trail work, and more. Spokane Humane Society and PAWS need dog walkers, and Habitat for Humanity offers several construction and labor opportunities.
Whether you’re looking for just yourself or your whole family, for occasional events or a bigger commitment, there is something for everyone. Look for volunteer opportunities with organizations you are interested in and redefine what health and fitness mean to you.