How to Get the Best Feeling in the World
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Enjoy this story and photos from Zach Johns, volunteer with the Superior Hiking Trail Association:
“Are you guys digging for gold or something?”
A group of three hikers had just crested the knoll in front of us. As they passed, I could see confused looks as they eyed the unusual gear hanging off our packs which included a shovel, loppers and a five gallon bucket.
“No,” my eldest son replied. “We’re on our way to Penn Creek to do our campsite inspection.”
We then explained how twice a year we hiked four miles round trip over some very rugged country to inspect a campsite, shovel out the fire pits, trim the brush and do any other light maintenance.
As usual, our fellow trail lovers showered us with profuse thanks. And also as usual, my kids’ faces beamed with pride as we continued down the trail. My heart swelled as I could see that they enjoyed being thanked by total strangers for doing good work.
Volunteering to help your favorite trail is one of the best feelings in the world.
Do it with your kids and the experience is amplified a thousand times.
When I started backpacking in my early twenties, hiking was a pretty selfish pursuit.
I wanted to rack-up mileage, finish entire trails, just hike, hike, hike! I didn’t really think about all the work that’s involved with building and maintaining trails.
After I had finished the entire Superior Hiking Trail, I decided that I should join the association, at least paying yearly dues would be a small tribute to the trail that had given me so much. But it was when I had kids that my volunteer spirit really kicked in.
It might be the old “I want to make sure my kids have the same opportunities that I had” instinct. Or maybe the “we don’t own the earth, we were borrowing it from our children” proverb.
At any rate, by the time I hit my thirties I was in full volunteer mode and I wanted my kids to do it, too. I also wanted to instill in them a sense of responsibility in helping the natural world.
Ten years ago, when Nick was seven and Jackson was four, we adopted the Penn Creek campsite. The hikes we have taken over the past decade while doing our work are some of my fondest trail memories. My kids have developed an attachment to the Superior Hiking Trail, and to wild nature in general.
Once you know a place, you’ll begin to love it.
And when you love something, you want to protect it.
We’ve had scorching hot days, we’ve hiked in pouring rain. We’ve hauled out tons of trash yet sometimes found our site in immaculate condition. We’ve yelled, “room service” when finding tents in our site and even found it inhabited by bears.
Now that we’ve done it twenty times, we have names for nearly every nook and cranny along the way: “Resting Rock,” “Hollow Rock” “Fall Off Cliff,” “Sideways Meadow…” The section of trail between Silver Bay and Penn Creek feels like ours.
I asked the boys why they thought helping the trail was important and not surprisingly they were quick to respond. Nick especially sees the importance.
“We need to get these kids off their electronics and out into the real world,” he said. “We need future generations to protect our home.”
“Plus, it’s really cool,” added Jackson. “And hopefully when people see us kids out there helping the trail, they’ll want to help, too.”