Pennsylvanians Pitch In: Maintenance on PA Trails Is a Community Priority

Posted 09/08/14 by Katie Harris in Building Trails

Photo © Redbank Valley Trail Association

RTC is shining the spotlight on the state of Pennsylvania during September. When it comes to trails, Pennsylvania is doing it right! Check back throughout the month to learn how unique collaborations and forward-thinking agencies are coming together to help communities realize their trail visions and make Pennsylvania a leader in the trails world.

Maintenance. It’s the least flashy part of the trail world, but it is one of the most important aspects of the work being done by trail organizations, municipalities and agencies across the country.

How different trails are managed and maintained reflects the variety of the trails themselves, and for trail organizations in Pennsylvania, leveraging local resources, tapping into dedicated volunteer pools and partnering with municipalities have been the tickets to the successful maintenance of the trails that Pennsylvanians know and love.

Taking the First Step

The first step toward effective maintenance is prevention, and proper design and construction up front make a huge difference down the road. “We put a lot of effort on the design to minimize maintenance needs,” reports Darla Kirkpatrick, president of the Redbank Valley Trail Association (RVTA). Measures were taken to “build it right,” with considerable forethought given to trail surfacing, vegetation management and drainage to lessen the need for costly maintenance in the future.

Couldn’t Do It Without ‘Em

Photo © Chris D'Alessandro

Dedicated volunteers are the lifeblood of the maintenance force for the Montour Trail, and fortunately for the Montour Trail Council, finding qualified volunteers has not been a problem. Experienced and steadfast volunteers, many with extensive construction backgrounds, lend their hands, equipment and knowhow on maintenance projects of any size. 

Occasionally, the Montour Trail Council contracts municipal maintenance crews for assistance;  the National Tunnel paving project is a great example. 

Numerous trails around the state have Adopt-a-Trail programs, where volunteers sign up to patrol their section of trail once a month and take care of minor issues—reporting larger issues to local managing organizations. Adopt-a-Trail programs depend on the donated time, equipment and passion of those loyal volunteers.

And, did you know? The Lower Trail in Western Pennsylvania has a secret weapon when it comes to maintenance—that of Retired Navy man Nelson Horton, who now volunteers as a maintenance supervisor. He makes maintenance decisions (under the purview of the board), coordinates related projects, and organizes and trains volunteer groups—all on donated time. Awesome.

The commitment to trails is evident when you examine how many volunteer hours Pennsylvanians log on trails annually, and trail groups have gained tremendous insight into effective volunteer management to make those hours count. 

For Gil McGurl, Montour Trail Council board member, the main lesson one can learn about working with volunteers is the importance of gratitude. “When they are done, right or wrong, you say thank you,” he affirms.

According to McGurl, fostering the energy and enthusiasm that volunteers bring to maintenance projects is important in order to keep them coming back. He states, “We have a lot of volunteers that are out there because they love the trail and love what they are doing.”

While many users don’t think twice about what it takes to keep their favorite trail passable, safe and beautiful, others, like the countless volunteers of Pennsylvania, are pitching in their time, tools and know-how to ensure their trails are in working order. 

It is a successful model that is working for the state and an inspiring example for trail enthusiasts across the country!

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