Trail Stewardship for All

After four hours on the Dilley trails carrying shovels and tools to do trail maintenance with volunteers and colleagues, I am back home in my favorite chair, a little sweaty, smelling like sage, with my two dogs sleeping beside me. It is a good day.

I love the Dilley trails: Canyon, Blackjack, Mariposa, and Sunflower. Well, really, I haven’t found a trail I don’t like, and I know I’m not alone. Whether we hike, bike, run, photograph, paint or bird watch, the South Coast Wilderness and its 70 miles of trails, to quote Edward Abbey, “feed our souls.”

Throughout Aliso and Wood Canyons and Laguna Coast Wilderness Parks, I hike the trails with our volunteers who lead guided hikes; I hike the trails with elementary school children to develop our next generation of environmentalists; I hike the trails with my family. I pick up trash, respect the animals’ right of way in their own habitat, let the rangers know if I see something suspicious, and teach our visitors about the importance of good stewardship.

One wilderness duty that hadn’t cross my mind to do was participate in a trail maintenance event. Being of a certain age, with four knee surgeries under my belt, I just didn’t think I could handle four hours of wheelbarrowing stuff from here to there, carrying heavy tools, or otherwise keeping up with a far more able group of folks.

But I gave it a go today, and boy, I’m glad I did. Not only was it fun hard work, I learned a lot and got to hang out with cool people. Even more so, we worked on trails that I am deeply familiar with — trails where I can point out a specific wood rat nest, a good gall place, or where to see one of the best views ever.

My fellow field instructors and I take fifth graders on Dilley trails throughout the school year, trails that may, from time to time, have some challenging footing. So it was with a great sense of contribution today that I learned how to build and maintain trail drainage. As the trail experts say, “We like to keep the users on the trails and the water off.” There was plenty of work I was capable of doing, from shoveling debris out of the dirt drains to building a rock gargoyle that better defined the trail.

Trail stewardship is rewarding and hard work. It is hiking, with many stops. It is not stops to mediate, as with the Yoga Hike, or stops with the fifth graders to learn about a prickly pear cactus, but a stop to maintain a small and very important part of the trail that helps both the trail users and the inhabitants of the wilderness. Surprisingly to me, it is a very intimate experience with nature to thoughtfully tend to a little area of need. It truly refreshed my soul.

Restoration Program Director Alan Kaufmann, who heads the trail stewardship efforts, is always happy to see new volunteers at the events. “The trails are used by a wide variety of people, and, of course, for a variety of activities. We welcome everyone to these trail events. There’s always something folks at every level can do, from brushing to moving rocks.” And, Alan quips, “Sometimes, volunteers might just lean on their shovels to watch and learn; that’s perfectly acceptable, too.”

Now, as if I didn’t have enough reasons to get out on the trails, I have one more: to maintain our beloved trails for our enjoyment and for the plants and animals that live in this very special place. Another way to #KeepItWild.

To sign up for a Trail Stewardship event and help maintain our trails, visit