Trails don’t just happen. Rather, it takes an enormous amount of time, energy and money to plan, build and maintain the trails we use and enjoy so much, on the part of a whole host of committed public and private organizations, and with an army of dedicated volunteers.

Every hiker should try to make some contribution to the betterment of our trails. It could be as simple as kicking aside a log or righting a fallen sign on the trail to signing up for a day or weekend of trail work to donating a few precious dollars in support of your favorite trails group.

If you’re looking to start or renew your commitment to Maine’s trails, try getting involved on National Trails Day on June 2. Incredibly, this year is the 20th anniversary of this wonderful celebration of trails of all types, so the timing is perfect. Check with the American Hiking Society, the lead organizer, at for a schedule of events in Maine.

Beyond National Trails Day, however, we hikers need to consider how best to help out on a more regular basis. After all, given the awesome recreation and health benefits we derive from our hiking trails, can’t we do just a little more for them in return?

Fortunately, there is no shortage of volunteer opportunities, through the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, the Appalachian Mountain Club, Baxter State Park, Acadia National Park, White Mountain National Forest, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, and dozens of local and regional land trusts, conservation organizations and recreation departments.

These fine folks will happily introduce you to the safe use of the tools of the trail maintenance trade, like fire rakes, grub hoes, pruning shears, swizzle sticks, bow saws, pick mattocks, axes and shovels. Then, together with a cadre of other helpers, you’ll head out onto the trails to tackle a variety of work projects under the direction of experienced trail stewards.

Here are a few examples of tasks you might assist with:

Starting at the trail head, the parking lot must be kept free of debris and litter, and the information kiosk restocked with trail maps.

Along the trail, water bars, drainage dips and ditches, and culverts help prevent erosion by channeling rain water away from the trail. These need to be cleaned out regularly. Blowdowns — trees fallen across the trail — must be cleared for safe and clear passage. (An experienced sawyer will use a chain saw on the big stuff, while smaller trees can be worked with a bow saw.) Trail-side vegetation must be pruned to stem encroachment into the pathway.

Wooden bog bridges are used in wet areas like bogs and marshes. Because the stringers and sills of the bridges lie right in the water and muck, they deteriorate and must be replaced periodically. Rocks used as steppingstones in wet spots may be missing or nonexistent; you might have to wrestle a few rocks into place.

Wooden ladders and rock stairs assist hikers on steep ascents in many places. Rocks can shift and wood decays, so some fixing might be needed.

Trails sometimes need to be relocated, so short stretches of new footpath may need to be grubbed out. And signs and paint blazes need updating and replacement, while rock cairns must be restacked.

Shelters and campsites require care, too. Lean-tos have to be swept and the register book replaced when full. Fire rings often need rebuilding and remnants of unburnable litter removed. Tent platforms could use leveling. Privies need regular maintenance and cleaning.

Trail maintenance looks a lot like work, and no doubt, much of the time it is. But when done together with like-minded trail enthusiasts, it is most often a heck of a lot of good, honest fun. Many hands make for light work, after all, and working together to improve our trails is a satisfying way to give something back. Hope to see you out there!

Carey Kish of Bowdoin is a freelance writer and MATC volunteer trail maintainer. Comments are welcome at:

[email protected]