There are 10,000 miles of hiking trails in Idaho, and many of them wouldn’t be in the good shape they are in if it wasn’t for Idaho Trails Association, a non-profit group that organizes volunteers to help clear trails around the state.
The Idaho Trails Association (ITA) started in 2010 with a focus on the McCall and Boise areas, and then organized its first trail project in North Idaho in 2015, says ITA board member and volunteer Tom Dabrowski.
Since then, thanks to a dramatic spike in more local hikers donating to and volunteering for ITA, the group has a total of 16 trail projects planned for the Idaho Panhandle National Forest this year. In 2019, ITA volunteers worked a total of 8,000 hours on trails around Idaho, says Dabrowski. “The neat thing about volunteering is we’re really helping our public lands, and we’re not spending taxpayer money to do it.”
What Does It Take to Join a Trail Project?
ITA has trail projects with a wide range of difficulty, even on the same trail. “Sometimes there are difficult things to do like moving large rocks, and then there are easier things to do like clipping brush,” Dabrowski says. “We ask people to come on out and even if they’ve never done trail work before we’ll show you how to do it safely.” Hiking distances on projects vary widely too, from 2-3 miles to up to 8-miles over the day.
A trail project typically starts with volunteers meeting up at a trailhead to get to know other volunteers and project leaders, have a safety briefing, and then head on up the trail together.
Once at the project site, volunteers get to learn how to use different types of tools and try different tasks. Some people may use a crosscut saw to clear downed trees off the trail (ITA only uses hand tools for safety reasons), and others might use smaller hand saws or other tools to clear smaller trees or brush or improve the trail surface.
Volunteers have lunch together out on the trail and then return to the trailhead in the afternoon. At the end of the day, explains Dabrowski, the most satisfying thing is hearing people say “wow, look at what we got done. It’s a thing where you can get that gratification of your hard work in the space of one day.”
Meet Fellow Trail Lovers
“When people come out and volunteer,” says Dabrowski, “the number one thing they comment on is the people they met and work with.” The camaraderie is a big thing with volunteers, he says.
Dabrowski also says that they often see wildlife out on the trail. “I just came back from a project in Hells Canyon where we saw large herds of elk, bears that had just come out of hibernation, and mountain goats.” The scenery in North Idaho, he adds, is particularly impressive.
Summer Trail Projects
ITA trips are a great way to get out on some of Idaho’s most beautiful wild areas, meet new people, and give something back to our trails. You do not need to have any experience to sign up for a project; ITA will give you the training and tools you need to do the work.
Whether you are looking for an easy one-day project, a weekend getaway, or a week-long work vacation, you are sure to find a project that is right for you.
Learn more about Idaho Trails Association or sign up for one of these trail projects this summer at Idahotrailsassociation.org.
May 15-16: Lake Shore Trail 294 (rated easy) – Cut out logs and brush on this trail along the northwestern shore of Priest Lake (day trip or car camping).
June 5: Mickinnick Trail (rated moderate) – This popular hiking trail gains 2,200’ to reach a beautiful viewpoint above Sandpoint. Help cut out logs, do tread work, improve drainage, and trim back brush.
June 18-20: Coeur d’Alene River Trail (rated moderate) – This is a three-day project in the beautiful upper North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River removing logs and improving the trail. Join for one or more days and optional car camping.
June 26-27: Upper Priest River Trail (rated difficult) – A two-day project up to American Falls with bridge, rock, and tread work on several area trails.
July 7-11: Seven Devils Loop (rated difficult) – A self-supported, 27-mile backpacking trip around the Seven Devils peaks clearing the trail of downed trees and doing trail tread work along the way.
July 10: Ball Lakes Trail (rated moderate) – Cut back brush, remove logs, and improve the trail surface on this 3-mile hike 1,300 feet up to this beautiful Selkirk Mountain alpine lake.
July 18-23: Fault Lake Trail (week-long trip rated difficult) – This 6-day project high in the Selkirk Mountains will include building a raised walkway through a swampy area along with other trail clearing and improvement efforts.
Originally published as “Volunteers Makes the Different for North Idaho’s Hiking Trails” in the May-June 2021 issue.
[All photos courtesy Idaho Trails Association.]