A Message from the President:
October 16, 2019
A few weeks ago, I was elected President of the Central Texas Trail Tamers Board of Directors. Following some of the greats in CTTT history makes me proud to take on this task. I am enthusiastic about leading an organization for which I have such high esteem. I was elected during a time when the Trail Tamers are needed more than ever by our host organizations, but also during a time when recruiting volunteer trail workers seems increasingly difficult. Our membership is smaller and our bank accounts are lower than in years past. I am determined to make this a low point in our history rather than an end point.
We have been a proudly independent organization. We are self-supporting and have never charged a dime for the services we provide. Every penny we charge in trip fees goes to supporting our organization and the projects we undertake. We are probably completely unique in that respect compared to other organizations who do the kind of work we do. I wouldn’t change the essential character of the CTTT for the world. I believe we do need to do some things differently as an organization though. We build sustainable trails, but the organization has never been comfortably sustainable, even in the best of times. I believe we can make the changes we need because I believe we have the strengths necessary to do so. What strengths do we have you ask? Well, I have a few thoughts on that. Please read the little essay below. You will be glad you did.
The Value of an All- Volunteer, Self-Supporting Trail Tamer Crew
When a Trail Tamer crew shows up for a project, land managers see a group of volunteers who help them complete tasks that they simply don’t have the resources to do on their own. Trail Tamers are avid trail users ourselves. We enjoy and value nature. We usually have an interest in the specific region in which we work. We enjoy the sense of community and often develop a sense of responsibility to the natural areas we visit. We want to leave the world a better place than we found it. As individuals, we want to give back to the parks, forests preserves and refuges we love. We often believe in the mission of the host organization and the lands they manage. We have skills that are uncommon in today’s modern world. Completing a project or work day is inherently rewarding for us. We love to get dirty, build trails and have fun. That is just who we are, and land managers tend to understand that. We are perfect volunteers for them.
As we head home from a project, we often hear from our hosts that our work is invaluable. We bask in the appreciation and honestly, as individuals, we do this because like many volunteers, we love what we do. We don’t think much about the “real world” value of what we provide for the organizations and land managers we volunteer for. Truthfully, we shouldn’t be thinking about those things when we are out on projects. We get outside to get away from those concerns.
When we get back home and face the reality of keeping an all-volunteer, self-supporting organization running, not to mention growing and thriving, understanding the value of what we do becomes more important. If we are to continue to do what we love, It is critical for us to understand our value and it is just as important for us to be able to communicate to others the value of what we do. Most of the organizations we volunteer for need to be able to accurately assess and report the value of the volunteer work we provide and I suspect that many of them under-report the in-kind amount for what we do.
So, lets take a look at what we provide from a purely economic standpoint.
The Trail Tamers own and bring all of our own tools and personal safety gear to every project. We maintain them and replace them as needed. Here is a list of things we bring to projects in amounts sufficient to support a crew of about 10 trail workers:
Safety Items and Personal Protection Gear: Hard Hats, Safety Glasses, Work Gloves, Closed toe and heel work boots, Dedicated First Aid Kit, Safety Vests, Sun Screen and bug spray. Ice chests and water barrels.
Surveying: Range Finder, Clinometer, 100 yard measuring tape, Surveying flags, Surveying tape, Trail condition and planning forms
Clearing and Brush Removal: Loppers, Hand Pruners Fire rake/McCloud, Hand Saws Pole Saw, Axe, Adz, Machete
Grubbing and Excavation: Pick Mattock, Short Handled Pick Mattock, Rogue Hoe/Hazel Hoe, Shovels – round point and square point, Diamond Point San Angelo Bar, Post Hole Tamper Bar, Pinch Point Pry Bar, Pulaski
Materials Transport: Canvas Buckets, Boulder Slings and Nets, 5-gallon buckets, Wheelbarrow, Boulder Cart/Log Dolly, GripHoist with cables, Amsteel come-along.
Compacting and Finishing: McLeod, Tamper, Rake, Shovels, Flat Hoe
Woodworking tools and Cement Mixing and setting tools as needed.
You can easily see that we bring well over $10,000 worth of tools to every project we work. If every organization had t buy their own, provide their own maintenance, storage and replacement costs, the sum would be quite substantial. We know one organization that makes their tools available to fire crews, and there is no better way to lose or destroy trail building tools than send them to a fire line. Having a private organization provide the tools necessary also saves administrative costs associated with inventory and acquisition, as well as labor for tool upkeep. Most of the organizations we work for don’t have trained trail workers who know what tools to buy either, so there is an expertise issue involved in providing adequate tools for the specified jobs. And… tools are far from the greatest value we bring.
Trained experienced, knowledgeable Trail Crews/Labor: Our trail crews have both didactic and field training and many of us have years of experience in trail building as well as associated trades or hobbies. Hiring crew leaders and trail hands with this level of experience or hiring a professional trail crew easily runs into 1,000s to 10,000s of dollars per week. Are we working on a weekend? Guess what? We just saved our hosts overtime pay as well.
Professional Services – Trail Tamers consult on the design, layout, surveying, planning the build (including identifying onsite materials), and flagging for new trails. We help with assessment of existing trails for maintenance, rehabilitation, re-routing, improvement and closure of existing trails. Depending on the length of the trail, these kinds of services could run from 100s to many 1000s of dollars.
Onsite Transportation: A 4-wheel drive, high clearance vehicle in good shape, capable of transporting tools and people to back country work sites. One place we work frequently can’t even afford new tires for the decades old vehicles they use to transport crews and tools. How much are they saving by not having to buy a new truck?
Education and Training: Throughout the history of the Trail Tamers, we have trained our own crews and many 1000s of volunteer crew members from organizations we volunteer for. Training individuals and groups who can then become trusted Trail Stewards for our host organizations extends our reach exponentially and that includes expanding our value that much.
Trail Tamers are experienced in the use local materials instead of bringing purchased, quarried materials. Professionals crews bring in expensive uniform rocks and crushed granite (are you not sick of seeing trails constructed with this stuff) where Trail Tamers use mineral soil we dig from the worksite itself. We search the property for rocks that can be used to build walls, steps, water bars, creek crossings, culverts and armored sections of trail and we transport those materials back to the work site ourselves. During one notable project a few years ago, we built a creek crossing about 200 yards downstream from a virtually identical crossing built by a professional crew working for the National Wildlife Refuge. Their paid crew used large machinery to bring in huge rocks from off site and place them at a low water crossing. They couldn’t get their machines to the crossing downstream without destroying a huge swath of vegetation and the approach trails to the crossing. They called in the Trail Tamers and we used boulders of a similar size we found ourselves and moved by hand. We placed the boulders across the creek at a reasonable distance from each other that allowed adequate flow and oriented them with the flow of the water so they wouldn’t wash away easily. We armored the approach to each side so that the bank would not be eroded by hikers stepping to the boulders to cross. I’ll just add here that crossing is still is use today and we didn’t need to drill holes and insert rebar to keep them in place! How much is that worth? How many 1000s of dollars does that save for every project we work?
Food and Hydration: Trail Tamers plan our own menus and cook our own meals. This saves the cost of a cook or caterer and about $800.00 - $1000 worth of food and drinks needed to feed and hydrate a crew of 10 for a week. For locations without a kitchen to use, we have a full camp kitchen and mess tent. We also take the time to buy and transport this to the property ourselves so our hosts don’t have to.
Travel expenses to and from a work site can amount to a significant expense and the more remote a location, the higher that expense is. Gasoline for a Truck out to West Texas and back to Austin is in the 100s of dollars now. Travel expenses for a crew originating from all over Texas runs in the 1000s. We are donating those expenses to the host organization every time we do a project.
The Trail Tamers are a very frugal organization. We minimize expenses whenever we can. We still have administrative, legal, storage, website, promotional and insurance expenses. We could not do what we do and provide the services we provide otherwise. In essence, we donate those expenses to our host organizations every time we show up on a site.
Can you add all of that up? I’m sure an accountant could place an actual monetary amount on every item and even do magic like account for depreciation and amortization (whatever that means). After reading this summary of what the Trail Tamers provide every time we show up on a project it should be clear that the value of a Trail Tamer crew could easily be placed in the 10s of thousands of dollars for every week we work on a project. How much more is it worth when we return to the same location year after year, sometimes multiple times per year? Now ask yourself what is the value of a trail that doesn’t wash out because it was constructed correctly the first time? How much is a trail worth that can be used to show off the property to potential benefactors? The value of a sustainable trail continues to provide our hosts with dividends long after we are gone. What we do ensures access to nature for future generations as well as for the current needs of those we serve. Knowing that makes us proud.
I hope that knowing the worth of our contributions will help guide us toward building a sustainable Trail Tamer organization. There are some things you can do right now to help us start to grow and thrive again.
If you aren’t signed up for a trip check the website and sign up for one soon. We have several local and regional projects that will be posted soon, but the Guadalupe Mountains Trip and the Love Creek Trip will be awesome projects.
Make a list of friends who you think will like to help on a project and invite them to come out and work with us. Actually ask them to give it a try and join us.
Consider upping your own membership to a supporting membership. Its only $100.00 per year and that could really help us improve our finances.
If you read this far – I thank you. I’ll try to be a little less verbose in the future. I’m looking forward to seeing you all out on the trails. Please let me know what I can do to support you as a Trail Tamer. Until then,
Central Texas Trail Tamers