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Not your average vacation

The crew stands by the new steps at the Spit. - Contributed photo/ Tim Clark
The crew stands by the new steps at the Spit.
— image credit: Contributed photo/ Tim Clark

By Joan Carter

Special to the Weekly

The Washington State Parks work boat pulled into Prevost Harbor and Nick Teague jumped off onto the beach.

As the local BLM staff member in the San Juans, he had brought a crew of volunteers to work on Stuart for the day. This was it. Their week of service in the Northwest would wrap up at 3 p.m.

The pleasant morning ride skimmed past awe-inspiring natural beauty. Twelve eager volunteers had signed on for a “Volunteer Vacation” with the American Hiking Society six months earlier to build and maintain trails with  the county parks, the San Juan Preservation Trust, the BLM, and the local state parks.

Heaving  buckets of work implements – saws, nuts, bolts, pruners, loppers, power drills --  onto the Prevost beach that Friday, they then motored over to Reed Harbor and split up into two teams, one to build a deck, the other to clear trail.

AHS has worked in the islands every June for eight years. They pitch their tents and cook their own meals, tackling a variety of jobs. They haul gravel. They push wheelbarrows full of dirt or mulch. They bolt together decking boards or fashion logs into steps. Their reward:  camping, good food, and camaraderie.

Nick shared with the crew how the BLM lands in the San Juan archipelago were recently designated a national monument. Years and years of effort by local citizens, passionate conservationists nationwide, and forward-thinking government representatives made it happen.

“Your crew,” he said, “is the first volunteer team to visit this nation’s newest Monument!”

At Chadwick Hill--  our first work day-- Nick warned us of Stinging Nettle: ‘Bad’ if brushed unawares, ‘good’ to boil for tea, ‘great’ as a Native American plant with many uses.

Tim Clark, SJCLB Land Steward on Lopez organized Tuesday’s work at another Lopez gem -- Fisherman Spit.   There, a pile of logs and gravel awaited.

This wasn’t going to be easy.

Drills, rebar, shovels, rakes, and ingenuity were quickly put to use.

Ideas for how to best engineer the curve were tossed around.  Not having a tradesman or two at a project is never a problem, because a math teacher, or a part-time remodeler, or a backyard landscaper is likely on the team. They propose a plan, others tweak it, and soon a plot of bare ground is transformed by the trail builders.

Kathleen Foley with the Preservation Trust and Katie McLane guided Wednesday’s work on Shaw Island. The plan: hike into chest-high undergrowth, grub a trail tread, flatten down hummocks, and remove roots so future hikers can glide through the Hundred-acre Woods.

A thumbs-up from Kathleen set the crew in motion on a forested parcel donated years ago to the Land Trust. Five hours later, the dirt-caked crew chalked up another fulfilling day.

Odlin County Park, the base camp, offered up the most challenging task:  pile gravel into a pickup truck, shovel it back into buckets at the trailhead, trudge each 25-pound bucket for hundreds of yards, and empty the gravel into a waterlogged section of trail. Rain dripped from ponchos. One person shrugged off a slip into the mud with a yelp of “oops”....and slogged on.  Sara Waugh

organized the day’s work, got the right tools to the job site, and supplied ample refreshments for rest breaks. Two Lopez Community Trail Network volunteers worked tirelessly alongside AHS.

At day’s end, a hot meal is prepared by fellow volunteers.

An hour later, everyone settles into chairs around a crackling fire to swap impressions and embarrassing moments. Part of the day’s recollections inevitably includes appreciation for the hard work the agency hosts perform in these natural places -- a world apart from the urban bustle.

For those who enjoy hiking and trails, it’s a thoughtful time to commend these stewards.

Too soon, another AHS band of brothers and sisters reluctantly departed for their far-flung home states.

Next June a new team will pick up shovels, saws, and fire rakes and return to these islands ---  for a “not-so-average” vacation.

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