The old question asks: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” I’d venture it does, but I know one thing for certain — if a tree falls across a trail, that trail is blocked unless someone clears it.

Similarly, brushing back encroaching trail-side vegetation, clearing out water bars along steeper trails, repairing or replacing water crossings and other ongoing trail work doesn’t take care of itself.

Paid staff people are one piece of this trail puzzle, but volunteers are another essential element. Without volunteer efforts, many of our beloved trails would degrade to a point where they are no longer enjoyable, safe, or even environmentally benign.

Trail managers have come to rely heavily on volunteers’ time and labor. Many organizations count on volunteer trail work as a regular part of their approach to getting work projects completed.

For instance, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club ( uses a well-organized system of maintainers and diverse volunteer events/tasks to help ensure the Appalachian Trail in Maine remains a truly special trail supporting wonderful hiking experiences in Maine’s rugged mountains.

On the motorized side, both local ATV and snowmobile clubs are the glue holding together remarkable systems of interconnected trails enabling riders to explore the state’s outdoors from their machines. Everything from donated equipment and labor to fundraising potlucks and raffles goes into the support network underpinning ATV and snowmobile trails here in Maine.

On the water, organizations such as the Maine Island Trail Association ( and the Northern Forest Canoe Trail ( harness the power and passion of volunteers to provide world-class water trails (both trails, the Maine Island Trail and the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, were recently dubbed with “best trail” distinctions from Outside Magazine — “best kayak trail” and “best canoe trail,” respectively).

In the case of MITA, island clean-ups, monitor skippers and island adopters are all forms of volunteerism used to steward coastal Maine islands making up this fantastic trail of remote-camping and day-use sites spread along our coast. The Northern Forest Canoe Trail offers “waterway work trips” every boating season in addition to recruiting segment adopters.

Both the Maine Island Trail and the Northern Forest Canoe Trail help manage sites that, in addition to being on a regional trail, are within properties managed by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, under the Maine Department of Conservation.

The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands is no different from local land trusts and other trail providers in that we, too, need our volunteers. Each year, thousands of volunteer hours help maintain and enhance trails located on state parks, public lands, and multi-use trail corridors.

As just one example, mountain bikers volunteering at Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal continue to help sustain the varied “single-track” trails within the park. These trails, developed collaboratively with park staff and mountain biking enthusiasts, draw in visitors not just from Cumberland County but from neighboring states as well.

Volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds and affiliations. Scouting groups, schools, retirees, families, church groups, trail clubs, and simply interested individuals all contribute as volunteers.

Just recently, I worked with a group of incoming freshmen and upperclassmen trip leaders from Unity College who helped clear brush along the Caribou Loop Trail at the Donnell Pond Public Lands near the Downeast towns of Franklin and Sullivan. This ongoing arrangement with Unity College helps us at BPL improve trail conditions while hopefully giving students interested in natural-resource careers a chance to learn about management activities on a roughly 15,000-acre tract of popular public land.

All of this, I hope, begs the question, “How does somebody learn more about volunteering on trail?” A few organizations were mentioned above, and they deserve consideration if you’ve got time to give.

Of course, there are other options, too. While there are a lot of worthy places to volunteer, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands is a great place to start. Individual park managers coordinate with volunteers, as do regional managers in charge of our multiple-use public lands.

The BPL’s Off-Road Vehicle Division can help those interested in motorized trails match up with good volunteer opportunities. Finally, the Maine Conservation Corps, which is part of the bureau, has trail crews and environmental educators working on projects around the state. MCC actively seeks volunteers to augment the crews made up of AmeriCorps volunteers.

Trail maintenance is an ongoing challenge vital to Maine’s outdoor character. Volunteers are needed to meet that challenge.

If you’re interested in volunteering with the Maine State Parks, visit For information on Maine Public Lands volunteer opportunities, contact the Western Region (778-8231), Eastern Region (941-4412), the Northern Region (435-7963), or call 287-4920 for general, statewide inquiries. For information about the Maine Conservation Corps, visit

And if you’re wondering about falling trees in the forest, volunteer to clear trails after a hard winter or major wind storm. You will encounter your fair share of trees that presumably made plenty of sound when they came down.

Rex Turner is an outdoor recreation planner with the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.