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Summer's winding down, but there’s still time for a few more fair-weather hiking trips. Even better: pick one that lets you give back to the forest.
Take the volunteer vacations set up through the American Hiking Society that get you outside and donate your time and muscle power to trail maintenance in state and national parks. In 2013, the six- to 15-person crews worked on 61 projects with their “sweat equity,” contributing a value of nearly half-a-million dollars. Plus, the society does most of the planning legwork for you.
You’re responsible for your transportation to your work site, but the $295 trip fee covers food, backcountry permits for a week in the wilderness, your work gear (shovels, gloves), and occasionally airport shuttles to the park.
Sure, manual labor is involved, but you’ll come away from your weeklong vacay with a sense of fulfillment.
“I like the whole idea of working on trails and doing something substantive with a group of like-minded individuals, especially in places I’ve never been before," says Kevin Thomson, of Derry, Pennsylvania, who has completed seven volunteer vacations with the society, most recently one in Vermont's Groton State Forest. "It’s almost always work that goes quickly because of many hands pitching in, and the results are immediate and remarkable.”
Thomson advises picking an outing that matches your physical abilities—trips are notated according to work levels from very strenuous to easy—as well as one with accommodations to your liking. Housing options range from primitive tent camping to cabin stays.
The trips involve service, but they also include recreational hiking opportunities. During upcoming sessions, you can hit the trails through the Golden Trout Wilderness in California's Inyo National Forest (through August 23), where you can fish Golden Trout Creek before your workday or take a lay-over day hike to Rocky Basin Lakes. Along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in Maine (September 14–20), and in a blaze of fall color, you’ll put your amateur survey skills to the test maintaining the boundary of the national park service lands around this scenic trail. And at Philmont Scout Ranch in northern New Mexico (September 20–27), you’ll access pristine mountains and lakes usually only open to members of the Boy Scouts of America and their leaders.