: Trailkeepers of Oregon

How to Give Back to Your Favorite Oregon Hiking Trails

Join a training hike to join forces with this trailblazing organization.
March 7, 2023

Help keep the state beautiful, hike and do good at the same time on one of Oregon’s spectacular trails. Trailkeepers of Oregon, a Portland-based trail-maintenance organization founded in 2007, makes it easy. The organization oversees hundreds of volunteer crews each year, working hard to clear and preserve miles of trails across the state. Here are some ways to get involved.

Five women in outdoor gear and hard hats posing with shovels at a trail maintenance volunteer event.
(Courtesy of Trailkeepers of Oregon)

Roll Up Your Sleeves and Help

Trailkeepers offers volunteers numerous opportunities each week to meet up with a crew leader at a designated spot and head out to a work site. Projects can be right off a trailhead or a couple of miles into the woods, and many are for beginners. Volunteers repair and rebuild hiking trails after wildfire damage or clear brush and prep surface for new trails. Most events are four hours or fewer; longer events may include weekend-long instruction and time off to enjoy kayaking with fellow volunteers. Safety equipment and tools are provided.

Steve Kruger, Trailkeepers’ executive director, leads the charge for those wanting to work in the field. “Sometimes we’re clearing vegetation and shoveling off excess leaf litter,” he says. “Other times we’re doing more technical things like removing logs with crosscut saws and building structures and new trails.”

For even more options, the organization also hosts all-women volunteer days, leadership-training days, tool-maintenance parties and Saw School, which provides certification courses to use this essential tool safely to volunteer at certain sites.

A man uses a chainsaw to saw a fallen tree into pieces. Another man in safety gear watches.
(Courtesy of Trailkeepers of Oregon)

Where to Get Involved

During non-summer seasons, the organization hosts anywhere from six to 12 events per week. That number skyrockets when the weather gets warmer.  During the busy season, they can have 60 to 80 trail-maintenance volunteer events every month in and around Portland, across the Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge region and on the Oregon Coast.

Events in and near Portland include regular maintenance of trails at Mt. Talbert Nature Park and at Metzler Park, located five miles south of Estacada, as well as repair of drainage features and addressing erosion at Killin Wetlands 10 miles north of Forest Grove. Volunteers at Silver Falls State Park might work to improve the area’s trails and bridges.

In the Columbia River Gorge, volunteers remove brush and fallen trees and help support trails. Volunteers at Multnomah Falls might find themselves digging and installing gabions — boxes made of chain link and filled with rocks. 

On the Coast, Trailkeepers volunteers were instrumental in reopening two popular trails in 2022 that had been damaged in Oswald West State Park north of Manzanita: the Neahkahnie Trail, which provides wide-sweeping ocean views from the old-growth forest on Neahkahnie Mountain, and the Arch Cape trail on the cliffs to the north. Current projects include volunteer events on the South Coast, like trail maintenance along the 12-mile Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor and in Humbug Mountain State Park near Port Orford.

A volunteer smiles from a volunteer information station outdoors.
(Courtesy of Trailkeepers of Oregon)

Ambassadors Educate and Assist Visitors

Trailkeepers also offers an ambassador program for those who enjoy chatting with other visitors. All potential ambassadors participate in an online training program that covers the principles of Leave No Trace recreation and teaches volunteers to engage with visitors with the goal of making outdoor spaces feel safe and welcoming for all. 

Volunteers are stationed at popular trailheads and out on trails around the Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge regions, as well as on the North Oregon Coast. “Ambassadors are a nice, smiling, wonderful presence, answering questions and encouraging people to utilize parks and forest trails in a way that doesn’t negatively impact these areas,” Kruger says. 

Kruger emphasizes how crucial trail ambassadors are in helping to educate the public. If, say, there’s an unsanctioned viewpoint on the Oregon Coast where people have slipped and fallen, these volunteers are on the frontline to suggest safe viewpoints from designated trails. If they’re helping at a protected site with a plant species that’s fragile, ambassadors help visitors understand the potential impact of picking even a single flower in that ecosystem.

Get Involved:

Spring 2023 is a great time to become a Trail Ambassador. Anyone interested may join a training hike at Wahclella Falls (April 1) or Rowena Crest (April 16), or sign up for a Leave No Trace workshop (April 12) to boost your outdoor knowledge for the season. Find the organization’s events calendar for the full lineup of opportunities and volunteer shifts available through summer, including National Get Outdoors Day on June 11.

About The

Melissa Hart
Melissa Hart is the author of two STEM-related kids' novels--Avenging the Owl and Daisy Woodworm Changes the World. Her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, Smithsonian, CNN, National Geographic Kids, and other publications. She enjoys long-distance running and cycling, kayaking, hiking and taking pictures of Oregon's fascinating fungi and lichen. You can learn more at melissahart.com.

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