Keeping up appearances

From left:  Jenna MacFarlane, Julia Winter and Phil Peterson carry drift wood as part of the American Hiking Society. - Joan Carter photo
From left: Jenna MacFarlane, Julia Winter and Phil Peterson carry drift wood as part of the American Hiking Society.
— image credit: Joan Carter photo

There’s no driftwood in the Willamette Valley. There’s none in Waupaca, Wis. either. And Charlotte N.C. doesn’t border a sandy shoreline, so… none there.

What these locales do have in common with Lopez is that they are the hometowns of crew members who volunteered as members of the American Hiking Society in mid-June. AHS sends 60 work crews to trail sites around the U.S., including far-flung places like Hawaii, Alaska, the Virgin Islands… and the exquisite San Juans.

“If you can find some good pieces, I’d like to use them for naturalized signposts for the Odlin trails!” explains Jodie Snapp, manager at Odlin Park. The crew base since 2006, the Park’s manicured green space and the Pavilion with its overhead lighting, multiple outlets, five picnic tables, provides ample comforts.

But comfort aside, the question of the week was: what’s the agenda? Enter Nick Teague, outdoor planner for the BLM, overseeing 60 properties all around the islands. “The scope of our work week,” he explained at orientation, “will be intense: three islands and six different bosses. ”

What is this? ‘‘Trail Boot Camp?’’ We conjured up a grueling project. Yet at 7:30 a.m. Monday, we were ready to go. By noon, we had cleared the headland above Point Colville bluff -- sweaty work under a hot sun, chopping down non-native Sweet Brier. But with the snow-capped Olympics and the sparkling water of the Strait for a vista, no one complained.

As the day wrapped up, we followed Nick to the Point to gaze over the sheer cliffs and swift currents. How could it get any better than this?

It did. A home-cooked meal of minestrone soup and a walk through a Labyrinth, hosted by former crewmembers Linda Hudson and Carla Chalker. A warm welcome …and a warm shower…and a well-earned rest. This is Lopez!

Then… “if it’s Tuesday, it must be San Juan Island!” Doug McCutcheon of the Land Bank hustled us over to Westside Preserve. “Oh… fog’s in…. Sorry guys,” he apologizes. No whales —no vistas —no sun.

“C’mon, gang —over to Limekiln –it’s sunny there! Gotta smooth a steep slope and straighten a curved prune’s overhead branches while you walk... Oh…a retaining wall needs shoring up.”

The Wisconsin fellow’s eyes gleamed as he seized a Pulaski and drafted the Florida gal to haul rocks. She proved that man’s work ain’t for wusses. Hardhats? Check. Loppers. Check. Shovels? Check. Sturdy gloves? Check. Nick and Doug — who seldom get a break from paperwork— worked side-by-side with us, tackling roots, rocks, and tall trees without breaking a sweat.

Lunch break! “To the lighthouse!” The fog lifted. The orcas swam by the point. Did someone cue them? It couldn’t get any better!

Wednesday: we were getting our rhythm. Coffee at 5:45, then off to work. But wait: crews get a day off, right? Nick smiles and sweet-talks us: could we chip in just four hours? Tim Clark Land Bank needed help at Hummel Lake…. just to widen the trail just a bit…. Hardhats wobbling on our heads, we happily churned through the Stinging Nettles like a roto-rooter. Tim played the ‘bakery card’ (abundant fresh-baked treats) which works wonders on a crew to go the extra mile…. a ‘day-off’ was never this sweet!

Thursday: — in the dreaded Nettles. But first — a tangle of salal and Ocean Spray had to be tackled with loppers, shovels, McLeods, fire rakes, axes. An hour passes…then two, then three… and a new section of trail is ready for use! Around that evening’s campfire, tales were shared about other trails, other mountains, other lakeshores, other crews.

The last day. We hopped on a park launch skippered by Ted Schlund, San JI Marine Park manager, huddling together for warmth.

Arriving at the Stuart Island dock, it was obvious what needed work. Another crew headed to the Turn Point Light Station to cut new trail. The ‘‘Dockers’’ were told: “Recycle!” They did. Other groups ‘‘save the whales’ – our crew’s mantra: ‘Save the Nails’! As for the ‘Trailers’: the trail was cut, carved, shaped, and walk-able by 3 p.m.

Why did these volunteers pick the San Juans? Why not? It’s the northwesternmost point of the Lower 48 though, for most, that means a two-day journey. Yet AHS volunteers are go-to folks, and they pay to work on a Society trail crew. But there’s more to it than the dollars. They discover the San Juan islands to be an extraordinary place. Next year, a crew will ride the ferry, stake their tents, and get ready for the adventure to begin. It’s what this ‘voluntourism’ business is all about. San Juans– we’re glad you’re there!

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