Volunteer profile: Lisa Farr — Crushing stones, moving boulders on the PCT

By Mary Anne Chute Lynch

Digging up 100- to 300-pound rocks and hammering fist-size stones into gravel to make trail cement. “I thought I was going to die,” Lisa Farr said laughing.

Laughing! Yes, that’s Lisa! Laughing about her volunteer trip busting boulders on the Sierra Buttes project with an American Conservation Experience crew — teenage to early 20s. Lisa is twice their age.

“You learn really fast how to use proper body mechanics and to switch sides,” she said. After stretching together at 7 a.m., the crew hiked to the retaining wall they were creating along a new 6.5-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail, part of a multi-year, collaborative effort between the PCTA, ACE crews and the Tahoe National Forest.

Lisa takes a break from building new trail with the ACE crew in the Sierra Buttes.

Lisa and the ACE crew hunted uphill from the new trail to find rocks. When they spotted a potential fit, they would dig it out, pry it up and carefully bring it down the hill, ideally so it didn’t roll out of control past the wall. Once they steered the boulder in place, they dug new holes to secure it in the ground.

But, it was no time for slacking. The crew needed to mix trail cement. Formula: Hammer fist-size stones into gravel, dig deep into the dense, packed earth for mineral soil — well beneath the loose top soil — and mix the two together to fill the gaps between the rocks.

That was 2016. The previous year, Lisa worked with her first ACE crew rebuilding steps in the trail using large granite boulders.

“I learned how to work as a rock-moving team,” she said. “I had so much fun with that crew I met up with them again in September to do trail maintenance by Chimney Peak, just east of Bakersfield, California. My notable accomplishments include digging an awesome latrine and finding my first scorpion.”

Payback: “Every trip, I pick up a skill,” she said.

Lisa helps with a logout in the northern Sierra.

She discovered the pick-mattock during her first volunteer trip, “my weapon of choice” for tread work. But, she said, “quarrying is my favorite job.”

A graduate of the computer science program at the University of California Santa Barbara, Lisa’s mathematical mind thrills at scouting rocks that are the ideal size and shape to create a wall.

Lisa didn’t go cold turkey into the rock buster crew. “My first PCTA project was June 2014 behind Alpine Meadows.” She started with brushing — “extreme gardening,” in her words — getting rid of anything that is blocking the trail in a 6-feet-wide by 8-feet-tall corridor. “It was great!” Once she got her feet wet — and everything else when their work was cut short by heavy rain — she couldn’t resist signing up for more.

That August she went for a week with a crew cutting and rerouting trail in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, north of Yosemite.

“There’s a lot of triage involved,” Lisa said.

With limited volunteer time and resources, the trail crews work on those areas which will have the most impact. A big priority is removing downed trees so hikers will not be damaging the land to get around the obstacles. She also does tread work, which includes re-sloping the trail so the water is not flooding or eroding the path.

An adventurer at heart, Lisa used her computer education to start a successful network company after college, which enabled her to become “fun-employed” early, as she describes it.

“I realized it was important for me to find meaningful ways to spend my time,” she said.

Living in Folsom, California, near the Pacific Crest Trail Association’s Sacramento headquarters, she began volunteering in the office in 2013. It wasn’t long before she was tempted to sign up for hands-on field work.

“Lisa’s so personable. She’s an easy person to get to know. She’s not rigid,” said Connor Swift, a PCTA Regional Representative, who met her on the ACE expedition building the retaining wall in the Sierra Buttes. Lisa volunteered for the crew two summers in a row.

“What’s great about Lisa is she is always the first to offer to do whatever needs to be done,” even if it’s hiking 10 miles carrying a chainsaw, said Charles “Pounder” Williams, the volunteer leader of the PCTA’s Pounders Promise volunteer group.

Lisa and Charles “Pounder” Williams pose near a huge fallen tree on a scouting trip in the Plumas National Forest.

Last summer Lisa went out with Pounder six times in the Plumas National Forest and began learning the art of crosscut sawing. Under Williams’ guidance, she became an official trail “adopter” agreeing to maintain 15 miles of the PCT.

“I adopted the section at the end of the work season last year. My first action as an adopter was to take the scouting class in September 2017,” she said. Her husband Greg Parrish came along as well.

“The section I adopted has some beautiful features to it: Chimney Rock, Alder Spring, Fowler Creek, the Middle Fork of the Feather River” she said. “The more time I spend there, the more I love it.”

In May, she introduced Greg to her section during his first backpacking trip. “We went for one night, and we’re still married!” Lisa said.

“Basically, it’s a new world,” said Greg, an avid cyclist and independent filmmaker. He is the first recruit on her trail crew, though he’s not ready to retire his cameras yet.

She started work on her section in May and is concentrating on removing poison oak this summer. She also is volunteering for other trail-clearing excursions. As a Weight Watchers leader, Lisa is also encouraging participants to volunteer on the trail for fresh air and exercise. Beats any boot camp in a gym!

“No matter what your skill level, you show up and contribute what you can. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Everybody is so nice and helpful,” Lisa said.

Lisa enjoys the view of Burney Falls on the PCT in northern California. Her volunteer work takes her to beautiful places!

Lisa hasn’t ruled out becoming a certified sawyer, now that she’s felt the rhythm of the crosscut in her hands, but her motive for volunteering is deeper than gaining new skills and muscles. Her father was an avid backpacker and mountaineer and he first took Lisa backpacking when she was 8 years old.

“We’re always going to have those memories,” she said, “and it’s important to me to make sure that other people have that opportunity I had to create their own memories.”


There are still rocks to unearth and new trail to create in the Sierra Buttes, and most importantly, there are volunteer spots to fill until September. It is an eight-year project building six new miles of trail to bring hikers closer to water access and provide better views of the Sierra Buttes, Connor said. One-half to one mile per year is the goal, but it depends on the slope of the terrain.

This collaborative work could not be accomplished without the dedication of PCTA volunteers, staff, our Forest Service partners, all the other partners who pitched in their sweat equity. And thank you to all of the PCTA members and generous donors, including the National Forest Foundation, Wells Fargo and the U.S. Forest Service for continued funding of the trail.

If Lisa has inspired you to pick up a new skill, strength and friends, please check out the Sierra Buttes projects or any other volunteer project hereCreate your own memories!