A sense of place

By Southern Sierra Regional Trail Stewardship Coordinator Michelle DiMeglio

Trail work facilitates a unique connection to the land.  We’re not just caring for the trail, we also benefit from spending time in that place, in stewarding a section of this 2-foot wide, 2650 mile long footpath.

How often do you stop while hiking to just be in one place?

Trail volunteers work on a dirt trail with trees and rocks in the background

Trail work offers a unique experience in getting to know a place and a landscape more intimately than the average trail user. Photo courtesy of Briana Morrison

This is built into the fabric of trail maintenance, especially when building structures.  The places where I’ve spent a week building a rock wall, or placing check steps (trail features where rocks or logs are used to slow erosion), or redigging tread – these landscapes live in my mind so vividly.  Often when I think of these places I have a sense of awe at their beauty, and how fortunate I was to spend that time there.

Hiking over structures I’ve built or trail I’ve cleared gives me a sense of pride, whether it’s on a beautiful mountain pass in the Sierra, or at the state park in Pennsylvania near where I grew up.  No matter the place, the act of stewardship, of caring for that particular place, connects me to it in a unique and wonderful way.

Two hikers look towards a cave made out of snow

The landscapes of the PCT are dynamic, ever-changing settings, but most trail users only see a snapshot — trail volunteers and workers are able to see a more complete picture of the landscape, like melting snow, changes from dawn to dusk and from day to day, weather, and more. Photo courtesy of Briana Morrison

I remember every detail of setting my first check step over a decade ago, as a Student Conservation Association volunteer in the High Sierra.  I can picture the snow cave next to the worksite, and the stunning wildflowers and immense granite surrounding the area.  I remember feeling so empowered by digging a massive hole and working with my crew to move an equally massive rock into it to help stop erosion on the trail.  In addition to the personal sense of accomplishment, I had such a sense of satisfaction for making the trail more sustainable and enjoyable for generations of hikers to come.

I have returned to places that I’ve worked and felt a sense of pride for my impact on the trail, thinking of the thousands of hikers, thousands of lives that have benefitted in some small yet significant way by my sweat and hard work.

When I am leading volunteer projects with PCTA, I am consistently inspired by the amazing folks who come out to spend time improving the trail.  I love witnessing the sense of empowerment when folks move a giant rock they didn’t think they could move, or when tread work clicks for them and they’re consistently digging beautiful trail.  Trail work offers a unique way of connecting with the land and with oneself, and I’m grateful to assist others in experiencing this, too.

Three people pose on a dirt trail with mountains in the background

Working in the same location for hours, days, or sometimes even weeks creates a special opportunity to connect with both place and people. Michelle poses with fellow trail crew workers in Idaho. Photo courtesy of Michelle DiMeglio

I want to thank our wonderful volunteer community for all that they do.  Hope to see you soon on the trail.

Trail maintenance makes the PCT possible. You can help support the vital work of volunteers and trail crews so the trail will be more sustainable and enjoyable for generations to come. Please consider a donation that supports this important–and neverending–effort.

Author: PCTA Staff

The mission of the Pacific Crest Trail Association is to protect, preserve and promote the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail as a world-class experience for hikers and equestrians, and for all the values provided by wild and scenic lands.