Have you ever thought about who maintains your favorite hiking and biking trails? In Idaho, over 50% of public lands trail maintenance is done by volunteer organizations. It takes a lot of work to keep some of our treasured trails open. Many would say that trail maintenance is "men's work," but that simply isn't true. Over the years, the number of women out there working crosscuts and swinging Pulaskis has continued to grow. The skills needed for this kind of work doesn't just include strength; sure, you need to have some level of physical fitness, but it really takes endurance, strategy, teamwork, and a can-do attitude.
Since I became involved with the Idaho Trails Association (ITA), first as a volunteer and now as a board member, I have noticed a trend. There are even women who think trail maintenance in "men's work." I've made it my personal mission to prove these women wrong and get them out on projects. I spent years working in natural resource management and can understand where these women are coming from. There were many times when I surprised myself because I was able to do the same work as my male counterparts. I want to help women have those same kind of moments. At first, I just tried to invite them along on trips I was already going on. That rarely worked. As much as I told them they could do it, they just weren't sure if they could do it. So I got this great idea...Women's Only Weekends!
In June 2018 I organized ITA's very first Women's-only Trail Maintenance Weekend! It was a huge success! We partnered with the Boise Chapter of the Bold Betties, an awesome ladies-only adventuring group to test the waters for ladies-only trips. With the help of a seasoned U.S. Forest Service trail crew boss, we spent two days teaching the Bold Betties how to use traditional trail maintenance tools and clearing trail. All of the gals involved gave it their all. They were all very enthusiastic and really paid attention to how to safely use the tools. Even though most of the women who participated had never done trail maintenance before, it went really well, and we got a lot done.
Women’s-only Weekends are not about exclusion...they have nothing to do excluding guys at all. The idea is that an all-ladies trip would encourage inexperienced women to undertake the challenge of trail maintenance using traditional trail tools in a setting where they wouldn't be self-conscious about learning new skills. So, in the future, when they do go out on other trail projects (where there will most likely be men), they will feel comfortable stepping in on the cross-cut or swinging the Pulaski. Everyone involved with the inaugural trip agreed that this was the optimal environment for learning new skills without the extra intimidation that comes with working beside their male counterparts.
After spreading the word about our inaugural Women’s Only Weekend, there is already another one slated for this fall. Since last spring, I’ve had ladies contacting me to go out on a maintenance trip. I’m sure there will still be days were I will have to try and convince some gal that she has the ability to work a trail, but I’ll consider this a step in the right direction. It feels truly amazing to not only help take care of the trails I treasure so much but empower other ladies to do so as well.
See more photos and fun from our first Women’s Only Weekend by checking out my StoryMap.