WTA Work Party at Soaring Eagle Regional Park

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about doing trail maintenance work. Considering the thousands of miles that I’ve logged on well-loved trails, it was becoming a source of embarrassment to me that I’ve never volunteered to help maintain a trail. Whenever I hiked, I would often think about the work it must have taken to create the trail and wonder how it was done.

The southern entrance to Soaring Eagle Regional Park

So, a couple of weeks weeks ago I finally stopped procrastinating and joined a Washington Trails Association work party at Soaring Eagle Regional Park. Located on the eastern edge of the Sammamish Plateau, the 600-acre Soaring Eagle Regional Park a hidden gem among a dense network of suburban sprawl.

WTA Trail Work Party Ahead!

I arrived at 8:30 am to find a small group of WTA volunteers in hard hats gathered around the park’s southern entrance. I located my friend Shristhy, who agreed to join me in the day’s adventure, and signed in. Soon we were both sporting green hard hats and listening to a short orientation briefing by our crew leader LeeAnne.

Hiking to the Devil’s Side Trail

A tunnel of golden leaves greeted us as we walked single file to our worksite on the Devil’s Side Trail. We experienced a glorious stretch of sunny autumn weather in October this year, which delayed seasonal storms that typically knock down all the leaves. The air cooled as we entered the quiet shade of the mature forest – which would serve to keep us from overheating once we began to work. A perfect day.

After pausing to retrieve a pile of tools that had been previously cached, we gathered together for a safety briefing. LeAnne asked the volunteer leads to introduce the tools we would be using. They took turns explaining what each tool would be used for and how to safely carry and store them. As I looked around the group, I realized that I was one of the youngest people in attendance. It was clear that most of the other volunteers had many years of trail maintenance experience under their belts. I was to later learn that two of the volunteers were over 90 years old. Considering my absolute lack of experience, I felt privileged to have so many other seasoned volunteers among the work party.

Before: The Stump and Trail Prior to Trail Maintenance

Shristhy and I soon found ourselves stationed at a section of trail with our volunteer lead, Sue, and another experienced volunteer named Jeanne. We were tasked with digging a drain to discourage water from pooling on the trail.

As Shristhy and I dug the drain, Jeanne and Sue evaluated a stump that was stuck in the middle of the trail. They wanted to remove the stump so it didn’t block the flow of traffic, but first needed to ensure that it was not part of the nearby cedar tree’s root system. The wood was rotted through and soon we had the green light to proceed with project stump removal.

Shristhy Loves Trail Maintenance!

Shristhy Digs a Drainage Ditch

Sue and Jeanne Evaluate the Stump

Shristhy and I quickly finished digging the drain and came over to help Sue and Jeanne. The stump ended up being much larger than we originally anticipated and we spent several hours digging and prying and wiggling it out.

Shristhy Tries to Saw Off a Piece of the Stump

Digging Out the Stump

Heave Ho, Ladies!

Jeanne Strikes a Pose

Almost There!

At last the final piece of stump was uncovered and the four of us heaved an enormous piece of wood out of the ground and cheered wildly. We weren’t sure if it was even a stump after all – it could have been a fallen branch that lodged itself into the ground. What we we sure of, however, was that it never going to trip up another unsuspecting hiker again.

Behold, the Stump!

Lunch Time 🙂

After a lunch break, next came the job of filling in the giant hole that we had created. We spent the next several hours hunting for rocks to use as hole filler. Who knew that trail maintenance work would involve hours of carrying heavy buckets of rocks up and down a trail? It was actually very rewarding to watch the hole fill in and we chatted and got to know each other as we worked.

Filling in the Hole

Unicorn on the Trail Taking a Break from Hauling Rocks

So… Many…. Rocks…!

Once the hole was filled to the brim with rocks, Sue showed us how to properly cover the hole with dirt. It turns out there is an art to shaping a trail so that water drains off of it properly. So we spent some time moving dirt around and contouring the trail.

Hole?  What Hole!

Before we knew it, the trail was completed. You couldn’t tell a hole had ever been there. I thought we were finished, but it turned out there was one final step before we could call it a day. We dug up ferns that were located deep in the woods and replanted them along the edge of the trail. The ferns hid the work we had been doing and also served to guide hikers along the middle of our newly reconstructed trail. And they looked really nice. As another volunteer mentioned, the ferns provided that important finishing touch – like paining a newly finished room.

Planting Ferns

Adding the Final Touches

After:  A Brand New Section of Trail!

When we hiked back to the trailhead that afternoon, it was with a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. It felt good to get my hands dirty and to make such a big improvement to a local trail. I can’t wait to go back and see if I can actually find the same spot again.

Back at the trailhead, I found out that one of the volunteers actually wrote a book on trail maintenance. The book is called Tread and Retread the Trails by Julian “Pete” Dewell. He had some copies with him so I bought one on the spot. I’m looking forward to reading his book and learning more about proper techniques for trail maintenance.

Picture with Pete, author of ‘Tread and Retread the Trails”

Thinking about volunteering? Learn more about Washington Trail Association volunteer opportunities.

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