Clan of the Trail Crew

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Clan of the Trail Crew to the rescue!

June is national outdoors month and I for one would like to wrap this month up with a little love for some unsung heroes in the world of public lands: Trail Crew Workers. You may be asking yourselves, what is Trail Crew? And, you would not be alone. They are the oft-forgotten or unknown backbone of public lands –shoved aside by the glory roles of the Park Ranger in our societal psyche. Trail Crew consists of the men and women who silently slide by us on trails with 50-60 lb packs, toting hand tools, rock bars, chainsaws, and water, joyously keeping trails in shape for you and me. They do not seek glory but appreciate the hard work and satisfaction of a trail well done and the natural wonder that is their “office” space. They are often uncomfortable in uniforms and, depending on the park or forest service district, they may not be wearing one.  To the untrained eye this can make them difficult to spot in the wild.

I have a special place in my heart for these hard-working, hilarious and often hidden men and women of the forest: I am married to one, I am a Trail Crew wife. Trail Crew are their own clan of human. We–the significant others of trail crew–are also a certain clan pulled together by the love for those who sacrifice summer vacations, the stability of year-round employment and the constant fear that at anytime there may be no more professional trail crew jobs. The Clan of the Trail Crew make this sacrifice in exchange for the love of nature and submersing oneself inside of it.

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Hard at work with a crosscut saw

People outside the clan have no idea what it is really like. We–the significant other clan– know what crosscut saws are and often hear, at nausea, how cool they are to work with. “Did you know there is like only one guy in the world that still sharpens them, and he lives in Australia?!” We understand that during “the season” our life revolves around the schedule of the trail. When our significant others are called, they answer, and we would have it no other way. They could be home every night or on a “stint” where they will be in the woods for days on end. They have a ritual for these times. I’m sure that each has a slight variance in the ritual, but in our home it goes something like this: food gets purchased, opened and repackaged just so, wash gets done, kombucha gets made, dog goes on an extra special walk, big dinner is had and then it’s off to an early night. Then off he goes, in the wee early hours of the morning, to build that bridge or redo those steps or cut drainage, etc., etc. all so that we (the public) can head out–as the time suits–to reconnect with the wonders of nature. You’re welcome.

I remember when I first met my husband–and was introduced into this bizarre lifestyle– it was hard to see him drive away, knowing that he was going to be gone for a stretch. There was the pain of “twitterpation” exiting the room. As time moved on and one season turned into two, and so on, and so on, those feelings changed and I found myself ready and willing to help him pack his bags to go on his first stint of the season. It meant that I finally got that much-needed solo time (Trail Crew are laid off for up to six months of the year) and he got to go on the next grand adventure with his fellow clan members.

As he comes back to home base, inevitably storytime ensues. As he speaks I can visualize the folks sitting around the campfire at night, back in the woods, exchanging the stories of the clan, bonding in a way that very few get to these days. I get to hear about all the amazing work that has been done using only the materials that they can find in the woods, chainsaws and hand tools. They see the trail in a different way than you or I do. A job well done is infrastructure built to last that melts into the scenery unnoticed by us lay people. Trail Crew are a proud yet humble people and rightfully so.

So the next time that you are walking in the woods stop to take a look at the trail around. Isn’t it nice to have a walkable path, a bridge to span rushing rivers and trickling creeks, and drainage on the edges? Think for a moment what has been accomplished by the ever-shrinking and limitedly resourced clan of the trail crew. If you do get the pleasure of seeing them in their natural habitat, take a moment and thank them for what they do daily to keep us all connected with the natural wonders of the world around us. And, when you hear of National Forest and Park land being brought to the chopping block, think of them and all the good that they do for you and me and the future to come.