Volunteers help with managing the PCT as well as maintaining it

As we enter the new year, the Pacific Crest Trail Association is reflecting on the incredible efforts of our volunteers. Volunteers play a huge role in all aspects of the PCTA’s work. From trail maintenance projects to outreach events to sending “thank you” letters to our donors; we truly couldn’t do this work without them.

Two years ago, the PCTA and land management partners began collecting information for our Visitor Use Management (VUM) plan to better understand trail use patterns and to inform decisions regarding the management of the trail. Along with this new initiative came the need for even more volunteer power, and of course, they stepped up to the challenge.

Trail Registers

Charles Williams, founder of PCTA’s Pounder’s Promise volunteer group, begins the installation of the new trail register on the Hat Creek Rim in 2018.

The first step was to build and install official trail registers to collect qualitative and quantitative information about PCT users, including names, travel dates, and permit numbers. In spring 2018, volunteers broke ground and installed a new register on the Hat Creek Rim between the Cascade and Sierra ranges. Information was collected on handwritten sheets.

The finished product! A beautiful, sustainable way to collect trail information and user data.

Register Data Entry

This data is crucially important to the PCTA’s work in trail sustainability, but on paper it’s practically unusable. In 2018, 17 volunteers worked remotely on their own computers to enter the register information into spreadsheets. This allows the PCTA and our agency partners to evaluate how PCT hikers and horseback riders are using the trail.

The data entry work took 85 hours. It would have taken a full-time employee more than two weeks! Our volunteers’ efforts are clearly an essential piece of this work — and it couldn’t be done without them. It might not be as exciting as building new tread, but it’s imperative to the future of the PCT.

Justin Kooyman, PCTA associate director of Trail Operations, gives some insight into exactly what volunteers are doing and how a year’s worth of data will be used:

“Volunteers are digitizing the 2019 trail register data and field forms; this equates to thousands of lines of data that are hand-typed into spreadsheets. Once digitized, the data will be analyzed, sorted and used to create trail use models. These models allow us to understand when and where there are large groups of people on the PCT and how that relates to the impacts we see on the ground. All of this work will lead to better stewardship of the PCT to ensure the trail remains scenic and wild for generations to come. Without the dedicated efforts of these volunteers, all these field forms would be…well, just lines of data.”

Trailhead Hosts

At the PCT Southern Terminus, volunteers are making an impact through the trailhead host position. Through a collaboration with the Cleveland National Forest, these volunteers promote Leave No Trace ethics and safe hiking practices by talking with hikers and equestrians about trail conditions and how they can minimize their impacts along the way. They help to create a sense of community for hikers and serve as a last-minute resource while representing our partners at the U.S. Forest Service.

We’re lucky to have volunteers like these! Clockwise from left: 2019 hosts Patti & Lynn, 2018 host Jay, and the first host in 2017—Terminus Tom.

The Cleveland National Forest also dedicates two Forest Service employees to patrolling the first 100 miles of the trail. These Crest Runners provide trail users with information early in their journey and evaluate visitor use impacts in the fragile desert ecosystem. The hard work and partnership between volunteers and nonprofit and agency staffers adds benefit to the experience of trail users and to the future of the PCT.

Crest Runners Riki & Brandon pose with volunteer trailhead hosts Patti & Lynn at the Southern Terminus in 2019.

Soon, the PCTA will be recruiting Trailhead Hosts for 2020 and we’re looking forward to a new season with new and familiar faces. If you want to be a part of our effort to improve trail experiences and maintain the PCT for generations to come, begin by filling out our Volunteer Application or check out our website for more information on the PCTA’s Volunteer Programs.

Author: Mila Benson

Mila Benson was the PCTA's Volunteer Programs Outreach Associate in 2020 but has since moved on to other opportunities. She's enthusiastic about stories that engage and inspire others to volunteer and view the trail through a new lens. Originally from North Idaho, Mila is passionate about all things outdoors and spends her free time exploring California.