Published: October 2008
Follow Up
Ozark Highlands Trail: Path Minders
By Peter Gwin
National Geographic Staff

Without volunteers, many of America’s trails would have disappeared long ago or never been built. In 2007 alone, trail lovers donated an estimated 676,960 hours of labor, worth about $13 million, to create and maintain national scenic and historic trails. Countless others have given time and money to build and sustain the thousand-odd national recreation trails. You don’t have to go far to dig in. Wherever you live in the U.S., chances are a trail winds its way not far from your door. The 40-year-old National Trails System comprises over 66,000 miles, eclipsing the Interstate Highway System’s 46,837 miles.

There's plenty of heavy lifting to do, and the American Hiking Society's Volunteer Vacations links people of all abilities with projects nationwide. You can help clear fallen trees in the Ozarks, build a rock turnpike over a bog in Idaho's White Cloud Mountains, or cut new paths in California's fire-damaged Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. But trail advocates encourage new volunteers to start locally. Even picking up litter along a stretch of a favorite trail nearby helps keep the trail movement strong.

Volunteer
• Check with hiking clubs or environmental groups about opportunities to work on trails.

Write Congress
• Funding is tight for the growing system of trails. Remind elected officials that trails promote health and in many places offer "green" alternative commuter routes.

Donate
• Trail advocates advise giving to nonprofit "friends of the trail" groups that have adopted a trail.