photo by Dave Beck

Part 2: The Nitty Gritty and Project Sign Up- By Melanie Vining, Executive Director. Click here to read part 1. Tune in for part 3 about working on trails coming soon!

The first two weeks of February for ITA staff, especially our Trail Projects Director, is a bit like the last two weeks of tax season for an accountant. Sandwiched between finalizing project plans with land manager partners and crew leaders and opening the schedule for volunteer sign up is a narrow window in which we write project descriptions for the website. In 2024, we’ll post around 80 of these. Before we can write a description we must be reasonably sure of the project type (Food provided? Pack supported?), transportation plans, and the general trail work to be performed. We also must assign both a hike and a work difficulty level. The former is based on distance, elevation gain, and terrain involved in getting to the trail project. The latter is about the work: will the crew hike 10 miles uphill but the work involves brushing and cutting out smaller trees? The hike may be rated as Difficult and the work Moderate. Will the crew start clearing a rockslide and cutting large-diameter trees right from a trailhead they can drive to? The hike will be Easy but the work Difficult.  

Our awesome staff puts a LOT of thought and research into these project descriptions. We want volunteers to understand the project they sign up for and be prepared, both physically and mentally, for the work. But even with all this planning, anyone who has been on a trail project knows the dynamic nature of the work. Weather moves in, cars break down, pack stock get sick…a windstorm hits three days before a project and the reported 50 trees down turns into 300. We love this stuff, love that there is always a puzzle to solve and adventure to be had, but it requires even the most detailed project description to include a disclaimer. 

March 1 arrives! THIS is Christmas morning for ITA staff. We grab our coffee and watch in wonder as volunteers from all over Idaho and beyond start signing up. We answer emails with questions about projects as quickly as possible, hoping everyone gets the trips they have been eyeing during the project preview weeks. We see waitlists fill up. We identify projects that aren’t filling as fast and start a list of those that will need additional publicity. We get EXCITED about trail season, even for projects we won’t personally see on the ground. We love Project Release Day.  

Our first projects typically start at the end of March, and from here on out it’s trail season….