The KEEN Corps trail clean-up challenge
The KEEN Corps trail clean-up challenge

Happy Trails. Clean Trails.

I've been a hiker for my entire adult life. But it wasn't until I joined KEEN four years ago that I cleaned up a trail for the first time. Before that, I had no idea what a trail clean-up even was. Picking up trash? Doing things with rakes? Removing invasive species? Trimming brush? It turns out it can be all of those things and much more. I've discovered that no matter what the task is, it feels so good to give back to the trails that give so much to me. If you've never volunteered on the trail, it's a really great time to see how rewarding it is.

For our September KEEN Corps challenge, we gave away $75,000 in grant funds with help from you. Every hour you spent volunteering gave you 25 KEEN Corps points, and it also gave the group you volunteered with a nomination to win a KEEN Effect grant. The organizations with the most volunteer hours logged got the most funds.


trail clean-up

Never been part of a trail clean-up? No problem! We asked some of our partner organizations what volunteers can expect if they're first-time trail cleaner-uppers. Here are the FAQs they hear most often:

1. How can someone new get involved in trail stewardship volunteering?

Trailkeepers of Oregon: Everybody’s a trailkeeper. We work hard to make sure every volunteer feels safe and welcome at our events. Our thoughtful volunteer leaders take extra care in supporting new folks who have never done this type of service before, helping those newbies find their own path to giving back. No experience required!

2. What should volunteers avoid on the trail?

Trailkeepers of Oregon: When you’re out hiking, making sure you stay on the trail is the most effective way to avoid most hazards that might be out there. Part of what is great about joining TKO for a stewardship activity is that we review all the sharp, scary, or otherwise unpleasant things that you may experience during a trail party. Folks who join us will learn how to avoid and manage safety concerns so that they can feel safe and confident not just at a TKO event but in their future connections to nature.

3. What's involved in a trail clean-up?

Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado: Where there’s a trail, there’s a group responsible for managing it. Most of our volunteer projects take place on U.S. Forest Service lands, in state parks, and in city and county owned open spaces. If you’re looking to get involved, a great place to start is with the trails and parks you frequent. Find out who is responsible for managing the area and reach out to see what their volunteer needs are. Many land managers have their own volunteer program or work closely with nonprofit groups like VOC.

"Trail stewardship can take on many forms - caring for the trail isn't exclusively physical trail work."
– North Country Trail Association

4. What does a typical outing look like?

Ice Age Trail Alliance: Our outings vary depending on the kind of work you want to do. Volunteers can participate in multi-day Mobile Skills Crew Events, which could involve new tread construction, boardwalk construction, and stonework; Or, day-long stewardship activities that involve cutting invasive brush, pulling weeds, blaze painting, and more. Short, two-hour events like Weeding and Wine are more relaxed, yet important: you spend two hours carefully walking through a prairie, spot-weeding invasive species (as directed by an on-hand expert.)

Arizona Trail Association: We've created a video series to introduce volunteers to the basics of trail maintenance. You can find them on our youtube channel. Not only are they good how-to's, but they can give new volunteers a sense of what to expect when they head out on the trail.

5. What kind of gear does a volunteer need?

Trailkeepers of Oregon: We try to make sure our events are as accessible as possible. As long as you have a good sturdy pair of closed-toe shoes, a water bottle, and a sack lunch, you are good to go! We provide all the PPE (that’s personal protective gear for those new to the lingo) including a cool hard hat, eye protection, and work gloves. We do go out rain or shine, so having a waterproof jacket for those rainy fall days will help you to stay comfortable.

Arizona Trail Association: The video below includes information on what to bring with you, what we will provide, and how to stay safe for your day on the trail.

6. Should a volunteer steward a trail alone or with a group?

Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado: If you are looking to work on the trail itself, please volunteer with a professional stewardship organization or local land manager. Trails must be carefully designed to keep hikers safe and protect the surrounding natural resources, and visitors should not make unauthorized changes to the trail (this includes making new trails, often called ‘social trails’, or building additional obstacles for mountain bikes, for example). Certain groups, such as VOC, offer Independent Stewardship trainings for volunteers who want to learn how to maintain trails on their own time. When it comes to picking up litter left behind by visitors, we encourage everyone to do their part. One way to make trash pick-up more pleasant is to carry a ‘crapsule’ (such as an old water bottle, peanut butter jar, or other container) to seal away smelly trash or dog poo bags until you make it to a trash can.

Trailkeepers of Oregon: If you’re interested in turning your next hike into a volunteer experience, you can give back on trails you hike by collecting trail problems and reporting to TKO. You can learn more about this through TKO’s Scout School. After you report what you find, you also have the opportunity to join one of our trail parties to help address what you found. These group events are always geared towards teaching folks about trails and building camaraderie at the same time. No experience necessary!

7. Where do trail clean-ups happen?

Trailkeepers of Oregon: The cool thing about trails in Oregon is the wide variety of ecosystems that they travel through. Our state has deserts, coasts, and rainforests, all with trails that require unique types of care. We work closely with our land manager partners to plan for long-term stewardship of the trails we work on. Our biggest impact comes when we are able to empower local communities to participate in taking care of their trails too.

"Not everyone feels safe or welcome in the outdoors due to racism, bias, and hate, and we have committed to being a part of changing that."
– Trailkeepers of Oregon

8. How can I get my family involved in trail stewardship?

Arizona Trail Association: Trail volunteering is a great family activity. Trails need help from many different hands - from picking up trash to digging out major drains and moving rocks. Our Remote Maintenance Task Force is a program that encourages anyone heading out on the trail to take some basic tools with them and participate in keeping our trails open and safe.

9. Can trail stewardship be ADA friendly?

North Country Trail Association: Absolutely! The North Country Trail is unique in that it passes through many populated areas - it's so accessible! Many stretches are paved pathways or weave through county or city parks. You don't have to trek into remote wilderness to access the North Country Trail. Also, trail stewardship can take on many forms - caring for the trail isn't exclusively physical trail work. The NCTA can offer volunteer opportunities in a digital realm or at the Association's headquarters office in Lowell, Michigan.

10. Does trail stewardship respect different cultural needs?

Trailkeepers of Oregon: At TKO, we recognize that every trail we steward travels through the land of indigenous people. In addition to doing a land acknowledgement at the start of every TKO event, we also work with state archeologists whenever we are working on trails that pass through areas where we might encounter culturally relevant artifacts. TKO also recognizes that not everyone feels safe or welcome in the outdoors due to racism, bias, and hate, and we have committed to being a part of changing that. We are working to grow our ability to offer shared identity trail parties so everyone has a place to feel comfortable and know that they belong out on the trail.

We'd love to see all the good you're doing on the trail. Be sure to post your images, tag @KEEN, and use the #KEENCorps hashtag!

trail clean-up volunteer
That's me and my big smile on my first-ever trail clean-up!

What's The KEEN Corps? Our loyalty program that rewards you for doing good… and shopping too. Everyone is welcome to join, and you'll earn points every time you volunteer and shop. Check it out and join a movement of rad do-gooders.

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