Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A parade of volunteers on the Glacier Basin Trail

Student Conservation Association
members hiked the Glacier Basin
Trail to see the work done by their
volunteers and by other partners
Last week, I had the rare pleasure of taking a day out of the office, away from budgets and planning and e-mail, to see first-hand the work being done by our dedicated volunteers in the field. My hiking companions were a contingent from the Student Conservation Association, which has been a major partner of Mount Rainier for more than four decades, especially since the great floods of November 2006. SCA provides 12 week to 12 month interns in positions all over the park, from visitor services to research to trail maintenance to volunteer coordination. They also field high school crews for 15-day leadership training programs, several of which have contributed to the rebuilding of the Glacier Basin Trail.

Picking our way through a section
of trail yet to be rebuilt
We hiked all the way up to Glacier Basin, a seven mile round-trip. Along the way, we saw sections of trail that were completely obliterated by the 2006 floods. I remember responding to requests from the news media for pictures of this damaged trail, and being stymied by the fact that most of the "damaged" sections were so thoroughly wiped out that you couldn't tell a trail had ever been there, among the rocks, mud, logs, and other debris deposted by the flood.

Washington Conservation Corps at
work on the Glacier Basin Trail
We saw many of these sections of trail as we hiked along the Inter Fork of the White River--places where the old trail, below us, vanished into the river debris; and places where trail crews were still busy rerouting the trail to higher ground.

Your mission, should you choose to
accept it: turn this into a trail
Large stretches of the Glacier Basin Trail have been completely rebuilt higher up the side of the valley, to keep it out of the path of future floods. The trail is beautiful--in the words of Jay Satz, Regional Vice President of SCA, some of the best trail work he's ever seen. New trail bridges, rock walls, water bars, channels and culverts have all been installed to direct water flow. Crews are still working on some of the most challenging sections.

WTA volunteer working along the
Glacier Basin Trail
In addition to SCA, of course, many other partners have participated in the reconstruction of the Glacier Basin Trail. The Mount Rainier National Park Associates, several local Boy Scout troops, and other local volunteer groups have chipped in. The Washington Trails Association has, for two years now, coordinated public volunteer projects--including 496 people last summer (in 2009) alone. Only one WTA volunteer was on the trail the day we were there, but he was hard at work preparing a log for installation along the new route. We also encountered a crew from the Washington Conservation Corps, busy turning a steep, muddy slope perforated by seeps and springs into a world-class trail.

We finally reached our destination, at the base of the Emmons Glacier climbing route, in time to eat our lunch in a steady downpour: a typical autumn trail experience that did nothing to reduce the beauty of the setting or to dampen our enthusiasm for the work we'd seen along the trail.

Volunteers will continue working on the Glacier Basin Trail, alongside park trail crews, during this coming National Public Lands Day weekend. With their help, the rebuilt trail should finally be complete sometime early next spring. Thank you to everyone who helped to make this project happen! Your work will endure, providing access to the living heart of Mount Rainier National Park, for generations.

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