If you value foot trails and want to help build and maintain them, with great supervision and fun thrown in, then these are the vacations for you!
The American Hiking Society (AHS) is the only national organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of hiking trails. Each year they put together a great package of trips knows as Volunteer Vacations. I have participated in one of these, and the trail that I love, the North Country National Scenic Trail, has been the recipient of several of their projects.
Generally the “vacations” are ranked by the difficulty level from easy to strenuous. They may be located anywhere from canoe country to the desert. Most last 4-7 days, and are the majority are rated as moderate to difficult.
The one that I participated in was rated strenuous, and that was accurate. We canoed in through the Minnesota Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to the Kekekabic Trail and worked for four days to clear and maintain the trail. It took a day at each end for the canoeing which included 23 portages in total. We had to take all our equipment- food, tools, personal gear- with us. This was a true backcountry experience. The Kekekabic Trail needs to be cleared each spring or it almost disappears into the woods by August. The area is regrowing after a huge blowdown nearly leveled the forest along the trail in 2000. The trick in the far north is to go in after the ice is melted, but before the blackflies hatch. The year that I went, 2003, the planners managed to hit the time slot right on the money. We portaged through some old snow, and had a few blackflies one day, but for the most part it was just about a perfect northern adventure.
Our team of seven people cleared a backbreaking eight miles of overgrown trail in four days. But we also paddled clear blue lakes with very few encounters with other humans. We camped on rocky shores, braved a swim in the cold May waters of Lake Gabimichigami, watched the evening alpenglow on the far hills, saw a moose, and on our final evening the heavens treated us to a full lunar eclipse.
Easy trips would not include anything like canoeing a full day to the site and such hard work. They might be as simple as arriving at your work site in a van, spending a few hours a day doing some brush clearing or rock moving, and then eating at the campsite with evenings free for campfires and singing. Accommodations usually are cabins or camping.
AHS has 75 trips planned in 25 states for February through November 2008 . Trips are popular and fill early, so plan ahead if this interests you. Some of the “vacations” are even family friendly. You do need to be willing to get dirty and work. The price of the vacation includes everything you need once you arrive at the location, but transportation to the location is your own responsibility.
The full rate is $275 per week, but there are various discounts for AHS members, early registration, multiple trips and other adjustments.
I wasn’t sure how to deal with the standard ratings for this category. I gave it 5 on activities because of the range of trips offered. I rated it 3 on meals and accommodations, because if camping and campfire meals are not for you then this is not what you are looking for. These are vacations for people who want to rough it at some level.
I have heard a couple of complaints over the years that there was inadequate supervision / training. But since AHS has been doing this for over ten years, I don’t think that a few unhappy “customers” is much of a problem.
If you want to participate in a meaningful activity that will benefit generations to come, and experience the satisfaction of a job well done, this is the vacation for you.
American Hiking Society