Will Work For Trails – Volunteering In The Capitol State Forest

capitol forest volunteers
Jack Ramsey pushes a one-ton industrial lawn mower to clear trails in the Capitol Forest.


By SarahJoy Smith

color graphics logoA quick search through the ThurstonTalk archives and you will find quite a few stories highlighting the wide array of activities inside our precious Capitol State Forest.  We have often covered events that showcase the forest as a fun place to play.   The forest welcomes hikers, bikers, horseback riders, ATV enthusiasts and more. But without dedicated volunteers, Capitol Forest would not be in tip-top shape.

Volunteers are responsible for much of the trail maintenance and upkeep. Technically the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is in charge of the forest and manages the area for the timber. DNR staff also oversee, study, plan, and implement trail maintenance and upkeep. In addition, they run many Washington Conservation Corps crews, Puget Sound Corps crews, and even inmate crews that perform a lot of work building and managing trails.

capitol forest volunteers
Friends of Capitol Forest volunteers meet for a work party on the first Saturday of each month.

But with many more miles of trails than there are personnel and financial resources to handle the work load, responsibility often falls to the various groups that use the trails to care and maintain them.

According to Jessica Payne, DNR Recreation Communication and Outreach Coordinator, volunteers performed 66,994.25 hours of work  on DNR managed land state-wide from July 2012 to June 2013. These hours were completed by all kinds of groups from bikers to para-gliders to horse riders, and that’s just the hours for what they call the recreational areas. More hours were clocked in natural areas, places like Mima Mounds.

capitol forest volunteers
Lee Peterson, a member of the Friends of Capitol Forest, performs trail maintenance.

“Our volunteers put their heart and soul into the work,” says Payne. “We could not do the work that we do without them.”

One group who proudly boasts an excellent relationship with the DNR and a consistent volunteer schedule is the Friends of Capitol Forest (FOCF).

The FOCF is predominately a bike riding group who hosts the Capitol Forest Classic.  Their love of the forest trails is prevalent throughout the group. As was the understanding that in order to continue to have a nice place to ride they had to step up and make that happen. In fact, the number one reason to volunteer is because “I use the trails.”

“People who are willing to volunteer are generally of an altruistic nature. It takes a lot of work to make the trails look natural,” commented FOCF member Lee Peterson.

On the first Saturday of each month, the FOCF volunteers descend on the Capitol Forest for a work party.  I tagged along to learn more about their efforts.

They gather at a meeting point on the lower forest area. A very large box trailer stood open and inside there was plenty of maintenance gear, including weed eaters, rakes, shovels and some large industrial lawn mowers.  Members sign in to log their volunteer hours. (As it turns out 24 hours of volunteer work can earn you a free Discover Pass, necessary for parking at the Capitol Forest.)

capitol forest volunteers
Jack Ramsey pushes a one-ton industrial lawn mower to clear trails in the Capitol Forest.

After a brief discussion about safety and a layout of the plan for the day, we got back in our vehicles and drove up, and up, and up until finally we were on  top of one of the highest peaks. At that point the crew sprang into action.

The industrial lawn mowers were pushed along the edges of the trails to remove the extensive brush on either side of the dirt trails. The weed eaters were for the harder to reach areas. A few people grabbed the big equipment while other members held hand tools, some moving in front of the machines and some coming in behind them.

The front runners moved large rocks and sticks out of the way so as not to catch them in the machines. The back crew raked to pull the freshly mowed debris out of the trails.

People took turns with the heavy work, since the pushing of the one-ton machines up hill was not exactly an easy task. For four hours they worked together pretty seamlessly, while making jokes and enjoying the day. This was one happy group of people.

During the summer, the volunteer crew focuses on brush clearing, saying they can barely keep in front of it. The remainder of the year is spent predominately on what they call “drainage,” creating gullies off the main trails to redirect pooling water and reduce mud.  Our wet rainy weather can make the trails turn to muck, ruining a good day of trail fun.

capitol forest volunteers
Summer trail maintenance is a necessity in the Capitol State Forest. (Photo Credit: www.capitolforest.com)

The FOCF has also rerouted trails, built the first new trail in 30 years, assembled a bridge, and (unfortunately) cleaned up garbage.

Matthew Seamann, a 15-year-old member and avid bike rider told me that he enjoyed being part of “a cause bigger than himself.”  The whole crew seemed to reflect that concept. They care for the forest like it was their own back yard, and they do it blithely.

As another member Jack Ramsey put it, “When you get to reroute or create trails, well that is just wicked fun!”

To link up with Friends of Capitol Forest, click here.  The DNR asks that you check in first before picking up a shovel to start working.  Find more information on volunteering with DNR here.


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