National Trails Day is Saturday, June 3 – a day organized by the American Hiking Society to celebrate the trails we love and to promote outdoor stewardship.
I’ll be spending the day with friends and the Forest Park Conservancy getting the trails back into shape for summer after a wintery winter. As a trail runner, giving back to the lands where I run, play, and adventure is a key tenet of my beliefs.
In preparation for National Trail Days, I checked in with Lisa Slupianek, former trails manager at the Forest Park Conservancy, to learn more about her background and get trail wisdom from this industry veteran. Lisa inspired many (including me) with her deep connection to our trail system and technical expertise.
I encourage you to hit your local trails this Saturday for a hike, run, or as a volunteer (see end of the blog post for an added incentive). Check out events happening in your community.
How did you become a trail steward professional?
Like many college grads, I was at a loss for what to do next. On a whim, I took an AmeriCorps position with the Montana Conservation Corps in Bozeman, Montana as a field crew leader and I’ve never looked back. I grew up loving the outdoors, but I never knew how to make a career out of it. The AmeriCorps position gave me the technical skills I needed to continue in this field. I spent a couple of summers working for the United States Forest Service in the Gallatin National Forest. I was staff at the Northwest Youth Corps, and then I became trails manager for the Forest Park Conservancy.
As a woman trail professional, have you ever felt discriminated against?
Women are definitely the minority in this field of work, but I’ve never felt discriminated against or treated differently for being female. The trail field was commonly referred to as a “man’s club.” Maybe that discouraged women from entering, or maybe they just didn’t want to be covered in dirt all day long. Who knows. Over the past five years, I’ve seen so many more women enter this field and love it – I’m confident and excited for the role women are going to play in this area!
What are some of the biggest threats to our trail system?
This is a tough question because it can vary from place to place. But, of course, we need to have public lands to have a trail system. Now, more than ever, it’s important to fight for our land. We need to protect it and keep it public.
How can we protect and preserve our trails?
Stay on the trail. It sounds simple – because, well, it is. It can take months, even years, to decide where exactly to build a trail. We look at the ecosystem, the drainages, the grade, weather issues, user safety and enjoyment, etc. I think people tend to overlook these aspects of trails. When people cut trails, walk around the mud, let their dogs roam free, it’s extremely damaging for the environment. It kills vegetation, speeds up erosion, spreads invasive species, and can hurt habitats. If we want to preserve the land, while simultaneously enjoying it, please stay on the trail.
Why is it important to volunteer for trail maintenance?
There are no “trail angels!” I don’t think a lot of people understand the time and effort that goes into trail maintenance. Trails don’t just suddenly appear, nor do they maintain themselves perfectly through seasons and over years. It takes a lot of effort and hard work. Plus, trail work is so much fun. I would much rather work up a sweat on the trails than in a gym. I encourage you to get out there and volunteer for your local trails.
Where will you be enjoying National Trails Day?
This is my first year that I won’t be on a trail. My family gets together every five years and takes a trip to Mexico. So, I’ll be on the beach with a margarita in my hand.
If you were a trail tool, which one would you be?
I have to say a McLeod. It can do it all – break up soil, cut backslope, smooth trail, and tamp.
Favorite trail memory?
I can’t pick just one. For me, I think back to those times when the sun is hot, I’m exhausted, but I start to smile because I remember how lucky I am that trails are both my office and playground (a really beautiful playground). I spend 8-10 hours a day, outside, getting paid. It’s a dream. I’m obsessed with all things trails.
Weirdest thing you’ve found on the trail?
I’ve found way too many “undergarments.” I don’t want to think about why the person left them behind.
What’s your next trail adventure?
I’m about to begin a 500-mile, two-month backpacking trip. I’ll be hiking from Jackson, Wyoming (through the Grand Tetons National Park, Bridger Teton National Forest, Yellowstone National Park, and the Absorka-Beartooth National Forest) to Livingston, Montana. As a trail worker, summers are extremely busy; rarely do I get any time off. So, to finally have an opportunity to make this dream a reality, I couldn’t pass it up.
Trails Challenge: Pick up and pack out at least two pieces of litter on Saturday. Snap a picture of the litter and tag it with #makeapactpackitout and post to Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. I’ll choose one photo at random and donate $15 to American Hiking Society in the litter picker-uppers name. If you’re not on social media, email me your photo.
Studies show the highest indicator that someone will pick up litter is if they see someone doing it. By posting your photos, you’re raising awareness and encouraging others to follow your lead.