Big Sur Service with Sierra Club

Checking out the camp site

After telling her about this trip, my Grandmother asked “aren’t there parks around here that need some work?”

She’s right, of course.  People volunteer for as many reasons as others travel.  Me, I like to do both!  It is a wonderful opportunity to see a part of the world I would ordinarily just pass by.  The service aspect of it forces me to really get to know an area, live with the locals, and truly experience the environment.  Other trip participants add a diversity and unique dynamic to this type of vacation, as well.  Where else will you get to pull KP duty with a nurse, an engineer, an artist, and an airline pilot at the same time? More importantly, where will your kids get this opportunity?  By far my favorite part of this and any service trip he takes with me, is watching my son grow and learn and be part of a team of adults that treat him as an equal member of their team and dote on him all at the same time!

This particular service project, as most of mine to date have been, was sponsored and coordinated by the Sierra Club.  It was the third year for this service trip, led by Kathryn Hannay.  Each year a team of about 14 volunteers assists the Monterey District of the California State Parks Department  with trail maintenance and removal of invasive species.

The trail maintenance is especially important since the 2008 Big Basin and Chalk fires closed one end of a popular loop trail to Pfeiffer Falls.  Since then, foot traffic has doubled on the 1.2 mile (yes, Al – I checked three sources!) out and back trail through the redwoods.  With hundreds of thousands of visitors to this area every year coming to see the California Gray Whales, Monarch Butterflies, Condors, the breathtaking coastline and of course, the Redwoods – these trails don’t stand a chance with the 12-person maintenance staff to cover hundreds of miles of trails and related facilities.

Our project this year was to add steps to the trail in sections that are deemed too steep for visitor safety and comfort and to clean or otherwise repair other sections of the trail to help with water runoff and to stop trail short-cutters from tromping the native plants.  Many of us had no experience with trail maintenance of this nature, and only a few of us had ever pounded rebar 4′ into the ground!  Lucky me, after a few hours into the second day I realized we had on our team a civil engineer who had built his own home recently!  I LOVE it when that happens!

Let me just take a second to comment to any of you that are reading this that may be unaware of trail etiquette and the “Leave No Trace” ethics>> Trails exist for a reason.  Switchbacks (those crazy hair-pin turns in the trail) exist for a reason. Your authority as a parent exists for a reason.  Keep your kids ON the trail and don’t allow them to cut the corners. Set a good example! May not seem like much, but the trails are carefully constructed to maximize your enjoyment, mitigate erosion caused by overuse, and allow for efficient water runoff.  Cutting a corner negates all of that work by already understaffed and under budgeted park maintenance departments.  Please stay on the trail.   **end of PSA!**

After spending two and a half days hauling at least 40 4′ long 4×4 redwood posts, 4′ lengths of rebar, our day packs and all associated tools up and down the middle and upper section of the trail we had used all of the supplies and had some awesome steps to show for it.   Rewarding work to say the least, when you barely get a step in place and a family comes plodding up the hill and stops long enough to thank you for the work, or to comment on how nice the stairs are.  Many were apologetic for interrupting our work, but all were gracious and grateful, as was the Park Staff that oversaw the project.  We spent the last workday pulling non-natives, weeds, and other invasive species from the park entrance and along a stretch of HWY1 near Partington Cove.

Follow along for updates and more details about the people, the food, the poison oak, and the San Francisco side trip added to the end of the service week!

In the meantime, hop over to the Sierra Club site to find your next volunteer vacation!  Or browse this link for a peek at what all Big Sur has to offer!

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