Sunday, June 07, 2009

Volunteering to Build the Bay Area Ridge Trail

This past weekend I decided to volunteer to help build a new section of the Bay Area Ridge (BAR) Trail which, when finished, will be a continuous trail encircling the entire Bay Area. The section I worked on, along with over 100 other volunteers, was in Hercules, CA, in the north east bay area.

The current map of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. There are still many sections which need to be completed, as shown by the dotted line.

Not all of the land that the BAR Trail crosses was public. There are many private ranches around the bay area which are still privately owned. This isn't really a bad thing, since the ranches are usually hundreds of acres large and are not developed. It adds a open and wild feel to much of the hills around the bay. But since the ranches are privately owned, trails aren't allowed to be built across their land. Luckily, certain public land trusts raise money to try to buy these ranches, which the owning family usually ends up selling for millions of dollars to the land trusts. The land trusts then donate or pass on the property to the government, such as the East Bay Regional Park District, or keep the land open for public use. The Muir Heritage Land Trust bought the Fernandez Ranch in Hercules and is now beginning to open the land for public use. Thats how I ended up helping out to build a new connecting section of the BAR Trail there.

I volunteered with V-O-Cal, Volunteers for Outdoor California. They specialize in organizing large groups of volunteers for mobilization for projects around Northern California, such as building new trails, making new campgrounds, habitat restoration, and trail maintenance. They provide free camping spots at the project site, free meals and beer, and free showers. I could only stay for one day since I planned to go last minute, but it was still a lot of fun (and a lot of hard work)! Here are some pictures I took with my cell phone:

This is a typical view of the rolling hills of Fernandez Ranch where the trail was cut. Most of it was routed through the forested parts.

The breakfast/lunch/beer tent for volunteers.

My group's section of the trail to be cut was on a slope.

The first step in cutting out our section of the trail was to clear the grass and plants off the surface.

Next, we started digging into the earth to cut a wedge out of the side of the hill. We aimed at making the trail 4 feet wide.

The trail finished after the first day of work. The day after I left, the rest of my group finished it off by smoothing out bumps and removing loose dirt that was thrown down the slope.