Work-to-play: Building trails and connections in the great outdoors

May 2018 Posted in Community
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Volunteers of different skill sets and ages are encouraged to participate in trail maintenance. Courtesy Salem Area Trail Alliance

By Melissa Wagoner

If you don’t mind getting dirty and you like the outdoors then Beth Dayton, board president of the non-profit group Salem Area Trail Alliance (SATA), has got the hobby for you – trail work parties.

Although the word “work” is included in the name, and some real work does get done, Dayton and the crew at SATA – including a team known as the “Party Tsars” – make sure some fun happens too.

“My core idea is that I didn’t want people to just come out and work,” Dayton explained. “I wanted people to get to know each other. I think food was the connecting idea.”

Basing the model for her work parties off that of mountain bike races – where food and socializing is built into the event and part of the overall draw – Dayton is known for bringing a carload of donated goodies.

“I started the thing I call Café Subaru,” she laughed. “I open the hatch and spread out the food. It’s gotten more elaborate as time has gone on.”

SATA, whose mission is to build and maintain trails for non-motorized use in and around Salem, got its start in 2010 as the brainchild of Jeff McNamee. Dayton, an outdoor enthusiast who had recently embarked on her own trail establishment project near her home in Salem, joined the team in 2013.

“[McNamee] had all these trail projects up his sleeve,” Dayton remembered. “It was a pretty short time from when I met him until I was on the board of directors.”

As a long-time board member, one of Dayton’s primary functions within SATA has been the organization of work parties, of which there is a constant flow, because of the sheer number of projects SATA has been involved with including trails at Silver Falls State Park, Spring Valley and Croisan Creek.

At Silver Falls in 2014 the team undertook the biggest project in 15 years – the Catamount and Newt Loop Trails – where, for the next two years an estimated 200 volunteers worked tirelessly to open the three and a half miles of trail – some putting in hundreds of hours.

“We had six months where we were doing twice a week work parties,” Dayton said. “Maybe you get 200 feet done in a day.”

Despite the amazing amount of work and expertise building this caliber of trail requires, there are jobs for volunteers of all ages and abilities, according to Dayton.

“If you can’t swing a tool, we still have a job for you,” she said. SATA’s inclusive attitude is part of what makes the work parties so successful and Dayton said most are an interesting mixture of people coming from an assortment of backgrounds.

“We might have a stay-at-home dad, a doctor, a construction worker, anybody you can imagine,” she said.

Even kids are welcome to join most work parties – those appropriate for children are labeled as such on SATA’s website.

“I love seeing kids that are comfortable in the woods,” she said. “The parents just let them get muddy.”Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 11.51.11 AM

However, Dayton cautions that parents should take their own child’s needs and abilities into consideration before bringing them along. Work parties tend to be approximately four hours in length and a long way from the trailhead and bathroom facilities. No matter what brings volunteers to a work party – a love of mountain biking, the great outdoors, or meeting new folks – Dayton thinks trail work parties are a great hobby that almost anyone can embrace.  “After people have helped build trail there’s a new appreciation,” she explained. “It’s really a personal, emotional connection. By all means, come and help.”

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