Down the right path
There’s no age limit on loving nature. You won’t get carded at the trailhead nor will you be turned away if deemed “too old.”
One can volunteer for the Idaho Trails Association at any age — all that’s required is hard work and a love for maintaining Idaho’s trails.
“It’s fun, rewarding and a great way to give back,” said Dwight Allen, volunteer for the ITA.
Allen has lived in the Idaho area for nearly 40 years. Unlike his home state of New York, he said he loves how the state of Idaho has a venue for nearly every kind of outdoor activity.
“Here, anything you want to do—except maybe go swim in the ocean—you can do,” Allen said.
Even though Allen is retired, he said he still enjoys being involved with the ITA because the natural environment of Idaho is beautiful, and there’s no better experience than helping improve it for others.
The ITA’s main goal is to encourage the enjoyment of Idaho’s backcountry, but that’s not the non-profit group’s only focus. The ITA collects funds and volunteers, and puts them together to generate work crews for trail maintenance projects.
Last year, the ITA cleared nearly 200 downed logs from trails, constructed two new trail bridges, and forged two miles of new hiking trails in the Boise National Forest. This year, the organization has hopes of opening up and preserving even more of Idaho’s trails.
“It’s something you never realize—it never really dawns on you the work that goes into these trails,” Allen said. “We hear people say, ‘There’s another tree down,’ but we never realize the work that went into making (the trail) to begin with.”
Allen said there is only enough funding to cover maintenance for 15 percent of Idaho’s hiking trails, making volunteers an important asset to the ITA.
“Being able to do it because you want to, not because you need to (is great),” Allen said. “You’re not being paid for it, except in good karma.”
In 2011, Allen was named ITA Volunteer of the Year for his hard work, involvement and showing up for more trail projects than any other ITA volunteer. He was the first ever recipient of the award.
“I’d like to get more people involved because it’s a lot of fun,” Allen said.
While the ITA is a non-profit, there is a board of directors heading up the organization. ITA Trail Project Coordinator Susan McVey organizes maintenance projects, and found herself working in an area she really loved.
McVey said she discovered the beauty of Idaho’s natural landscape after working with a conservation program in Boise.
“It’s just a beautiful place,” McVey said. “(Boise) feels community oriented, but there are still so many things going on.”
McVey said a large part of her job is dedicated to the volunteers. The ITA provides the food and tools necessary for working on the trail, but also provides knowledge on how to use the tools correctly to promote the highest level of safety possible.
“I make sure we take care of our volunteers,” McVey said. “We have tools, safety and knowledge—those three things are very important.”
McVey said her parents bolstered her love of nature from a very young age. During annual summer camping trips, she enjoyed taking hikes with her mom while her father set up camp.
“(Camping) together as a family was such an incredible bonding experience,” McVey said. “It really stuck with me.”
McVey said the ages of volunteers can vary from teenage to 40 year-olds to 65 year-olds, but the experience of working outdoors is unique.
“All of these age groups come together and all love the outdoors,” McVey said. “It’s really neat to see the learning experiences.”
Chloe Rambo can be reached at email@example.com