by Jillian Begin, SCA Crew Member, Borderland State Park, Massachusetts
Trail work hurts. Between the sore muscles, bruises and scrapes, there’s no getting around the fact that this is physical labor. We live in a world of risks: tick bites, poison ivy, chainsaws, and boulders. Working ten days in a row can weather an individual. Mustering the physical and mental strength to push through the rainiest and muddiest of days does tell me one thing, though: this job is anything but passionless.
We see ourselves as both trail worker and “user,” the technical name given to the hikers, bikers, and equestrians who use a trail. As I’m working, I sometimes think back to the trails I loved as a child in northern California and wonder “Who built that trail? Who maintains it? Do they love it like I do?”
Reflections like this not only help me relate to the “user” but remind me that a trail is more than a cleared path through the wilderness. It holds the possibility of exploration, wonder, and connection. Every trail has the propensity to inspire.
The most rewarding moments on the trail come from the “users,” everyday strangers that come across us working. We’ll often see the same locals and their dogs through a stint at a state park, just hiking their favorite trails. When it’s time to leave, it can be genuinely difficult to say goodbye. It feels as though we are leaving a newfound paradise.
Borderland State Park in eastern Massachusetts was this paradise for my four crewmates and me in July. We cleared overgrown and invasive vines from a stone wall that dates back to the 1900s. This striking five foot tall wall runs along the edge of a beautiful pond with a stone bench on its top for users to rest and enjoy the view.
One woman we met exclaimed, “I’ve been coming here for 20 years and I’ve never seen this wall!” A man said, “You folks are doing a really important thing for us.” And perhaps our favorite of all came from a cyclist who stopped and yelled from a distance, “Thank you for all you’re doing here! This is my favorite spot in the whole world!”
Because the wall was crumbling in the middle, we built a rustic timber fence to keep visitors away from this dangerous section. We used material from nearby in the park, felling only cedars that were overcrowded, effectively granting surrounding saplings more room to grow. We also pulled truckloads of black swallowwort, an invasive plant that is poisonous to butterflies and hides itself among milkweed, the Monarch’s favorite food.
We talked to users of all ages and hobbies, engaging them in the conservation and history of their favorite state park. In doing so, it became our favorite state park. Beyond our new visitor and canine friends, we bonded with rangers and the memories of Blanche and Oakes Ames, the historic owners of the park. We were gifted with Borderland doggie bandanas, mine now lives on the dashboard of my truck as a keepsake. The feedback we were given on our positive effects at Borderland, the park, and its community touched us even more. Such a connected to people and place transforms the work we do into something more than physical labor. It’s a labor of love.