Trail Steward Friends

How do you measure success? Boy, that question can get irksome.

Often we measure success only by what we are able to measure, but that, by definition, can be limiting. Think of the NBA finals: Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors sixth and final game. Final score: Raptors 114; Warriors 110. Boom! Raptors are champions. Clear cut; awesome, end of story. Maybe. But what about the games – up and down the court, trading leads. Wow! And the players’ personal stories of injuries, comebacks and the heart and soul they all left on the court; the fans standing in the rain; the coaches’ leadership; the two national anthems – that is what makes the sport so compelling.

Stats are important, for sure. They decide who wins championships. They reveal just how far an organization has come. As Laguna Canyon Foundation closes its seasonal and fiscal year this month, we’ll be sharing some milestones that truly make us proud, milestones that preserve and protect our wilderness and that our volunteers and supporters help make possible.

This past trail stewardship season, I had the pleasure of attending most of our events. While I am so proud of the work we accomplished, what I will remember most are the people, our volunteers. The staff at Laguna Canyon Foundation has made friends: friends who worked side-by-side with us as we improved a berm, obliterated a social trail, re-seeded impacted areas, and cleared massive overgrowth that had made hiking and riding almost impossible. Our volunteers were thoughtful, supportive and eager to learn. And we all learned from each other.

As we pursued particularly difficult areas of a trail, we had group discussions about the best ways to support our ultimate goal: keep users ON the trails and water OFF. Led by our Restoration Program Director, Alan Kaufmann, we considered brake bumps, sight lines, and where hikers and bikers would likely go. We agreed on a strategy and built our drains, brushed our trails and mitigated erosion.

The hard work was fun and lively as the conversations shifted to college days, an upcoming wedding, or a recent camping trip. We had mountain bike volunteers – McLeods and shovels in hand – ribbing bikers as they rode by to come join us and help improve the trails. We had a father and son team come back time and time again, working four hours and THEN taking a ride. One of our volunteers celebrated a milestone birthday – the big 4-0 – and volunteered on his birthday! A girlfriend of a volunteer came and enjoyed her time so much, she chastised her boyfriend for implying that trail work was just a “guy thing” (she has since become a regular). We had a long-term high school volunteer spread the word and bring countless school buddies who needed to fulfill “mandatory volunteer hours.” (How’s that for an oxymoron?) We had a trail runner who was, in no way, a parasite (see Outside’s controversial article) sweat through four hours of humidity, happily and beautifully brushing a seriously overgrown trail. We had student nurses, also mothers with full-time jobs, find the time to commit a morning to helping on the trails. Corporate groups came out eager to work on the trail each of them frequently used. Recently, one of our long-term volunteers went to a different trailhead, missing the truck ride in, and so, not to be discouraged, ran four miles in to meet us and begin her trail work. Another regular got his certification to become a long-term OC Parks volunteer, completing his orientation, training, and CPR/First Aid requirements.

This past season, hikers, bikers, photographers, runners, naturalists, and first-time trail folks effectively worked together to protect our beautiful wilderness. We will share our awesome year-end stats soon. Getting to know all of them, hearing their stories, learning about their love for the open space has been an unmeasurable privilege and I am so grateful that many of them have signed up to become certified long-term volunteers – upping their commitment to protect what we love.

As we take a hiatus for the hot summer months, I will miss my new friends, but I look forward to seeing them again in the fall.

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