Deep in Alaska's Chugach National Forest several hikers are busy clearing rocks and fallen trees from the site where a cabin will be built. Meanwhile, across the Pacific, Maui's Haleakala National Park is getting a much-needed face-lift. At 10,000 feet, 10 gloved laborers are removing the eucalyptus trees along the Kaupo Gap Trail to allow the area's natural flora to flourish.
These sturdy men and women are not construction workers or horticulturists. They're volunteers who want to help preserve and develop our public trails and campsites, and they're doing just that, through the American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacations program (AHSVV, P.O. Box 86, North Scituate, Mass. 02060). For the past six summers the AHSVV has been dispatching teams of eight to 12 people on such expeditions for 10-day periods in June, July and August.
"It's a nice vacation," says Kay Beebe, director of the AHSVV program. "You get 10 days in sensational country, working with interesting people and accomplishing something important."
Beebe, who first worked as a volunteer in 1977, enjoyed the program so much that she offered to become its unpaid organizer in 1979. "I wanted to give something back for the years of pleasure hiking has given me," she says.
Under Beebe's direction, AHSVV has grown from 30 participants in Wyoming and Montana to 150 at 17 sites in the state and national park systems. Ken and Valerie Garrison of Warwick, N.Y. have been volunteers since 1980. "We love it. It's amazing how quickly strangers can become friends," says Valerie. Last year the Garrisons worked at Haleakala.
Whether in Hawaii, Maine or Montana, AHSVV vacations are inexpensive. Travel and food are tax-deductible, and the host organization provides equipment, tools and supervision. Participants provide sleeping bags, tents and muscle power.
Sure, the tasks can be strenuous and occasionally uncomfortable, but, says Beebe, "The personal satisfaction is its own reward."