‘This is how people built the pyramids.’ – Pacific Crest Trail volunteer Bill Carpenter

By Mary Anne Chute Lynch

On his first PCT maintenance trip this season, Bill Carpenter and crew cleared out 21 trees that had fallen during winter, the remnants of a 1995 fire. Another crew cut 150. But all that was a warm-up exercise.

Bill went back three days later to begin hand-sawing another 150 trees blocking access to the three PCT sections he stewards. These logs must be cut and removed before volunteers can clear overgrown brush, repair tread and build water drainage systems to prevent erosion.

“I’d kind of been a city person,” before volunteering, the former chemical engineer from Denver said. After attending a presentation at a local REI by Dana Hendricks, the PCTA’s regional representative in the Columbia Cascades, he signed up for classes at the PCTA’s Trail Skills College.

There, he learned how to handle a crosscut saw, and that summer helped build water bars to divert water from the trail. The following year he took more classes, stepped up to chain saws and volunteered to become a crew leader for one section of the trail. A crew leader takes out a group of volunteers for a specific project, such as clearing brush. A steward takes responsibility for all the maintenance work on an entire section.

Bill Carpenter, champion for the Pacific Crest Trail.

Bill Carpenter, champion for the Pacific Crest Trail.

Carpenter has enthusiastically acquired more skills and responsibilities and is now PCTA’s Mid-Oregon Volunteer Coordinator for 165 miles of the PCT from Breitenbush Lake just north of Mount Jefferson to Windigo Pass. He coordinates maintenance on 26 sections of the trail with 19 crew leaders, including four equestrian groups and an ultramarathon group that clears three sections of the trail along their annual race course. He also stewards his own three sections. The section Carpenter and other volunteers cleared at the launch of the season has no volunteers or leaders.

Carpenter is now an independent environmental lawyer in Springfield, Oregon, but taps his engineering and project management experience to create solutions to nature’s challenges. “I’m always trying to do things to leverage a log or find things to roll on, to use all that mechanical advantage.” He imagines: “This is how people built the pyramids.”

The people are Carpenter’s favorite aspect of volunteering. “You rarely get grumpy volunteers. They all have a good attitude.” He also enjoys “that feeling of giving something back to the trail and to the wilderness area.” Cutting and clearing a tree that was four-feet in diameter and rerouting a segment of the PCT are two of the highlights of his volunteer hours.

Carpenter plans to lead maintenance crews nine out of the 12 weekends this summer, and he often stays an extra day to do more. One of the most difficult challenges he faces is finding new volunteers. He now teaches at the Trail Skills College and speaks at REI and to other groups with the hope of recruiting more help. His son and daughter have joined him on maintenance trips, but “I’d like to just do some hiking on the trail,” outside of his sections, Carpenter said. His dream hike would be through the mountains of New Zealand.

A night owl who likes to gaze at the stars, Carpenter, 64, admits that getting up early on Sunday after a full day of labor on Saturday is not his favorite part of maintenance, but hiking back after a really good day of trail work, he finds a tremendous “feeling of satisfaction.” He has volunteered with various city organizations but said maintenance of the PCT “is some of the most rewarding work you will find.”

To volunteer with Carpenter, contact him by e-mail: [email protected].

Not in Carpenter’s region? You can still enjoy the outdoors, the stars and playing in the dirt as a PCTA volunteer. Join us. The PCT needs you.