Field Day

Taking time for trails. 

Why would someone give up a spring day for dirt and sweat without setting a PR or ticking off a bucket-list item? Last year, a couple dozen people did just that in the inaugural season of the Montana Wilderness Association’s new stewardship program.

In addition to a love for wild lands, one thing on which the various users of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest agree is the desire to help the Forest Service protect this amazing resource and keep it a world-class recreational experience. The Backcountry Horsemen and Gallatin Valley Snowmobile Association have provided assistance for years, and the Southwest Montana Mountain Bicycle Association and the Livingston Bike Club have been busy the last few years building new trails in the Copper City and West Pine areas. Recognizing it was time for us to join in, the Montana Wilderness Association (MWA) decided to expand its volunteer efforts from the Continental Divide Trail program to the local level.

We knew we had the enthusiasm, and when we discovered we also had specialized expertise in trail-maintenance and volunteer leadership, the Adopt-a-Trail program was born. We soon learned that many locals already have a tremendous amount of experience in trail work. The Forest Service helped us select the trails and design the projects. They also loaned us tools and came out to work alongside us.

The Lava Lake trail in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness was selected, as it is the highest-use trail in the Bozeman District. The Cliff Creek branch of the Big Creek trail, on the Yellowstone side of the Hyalite–Porcupine–Buffalo Horn WSA, was also selected because it is an overgrown and underused route to the Gallatin Crest.

Last spring, we held classes for volunteers in first aid, crosscut sawing, and trail maintenance, and we collected tools for a cache. When summer finally arrived, we rounded up crews of volunteers and spent a June day and a September day on each trail. Volunteers sawed logs, cleared brush, cleaned or built new water diversions, reconfigured stream crossings, and addressed muddy seeps. Everybody stayed safe and we all had fun.

Along the way, we worked with the new MWA Trail Stewards program to keep hikers apprised of our work. The Stewards traveled the Lava Lake trail in the summer and added the Beehive Basin trail during winter. They talked with forest users, offered information and assistance, and taught new visitors about safe wilderness travel, ethics, and Leave No Trace principles. It’s shocking how many people hike to Lava Lake in flip-flops and gym shorts, and without water! 

So, again, why would folks give up a precious summer day to do all this? For some, it’s re-living treasured experiences from their youth. For others, it’s because the court counts it as community service. For most, it’s to give back: to show gratitude for those who built the trails and who maintain the roads and parking areas; to make sure there’s TP in the outhouse; and to come home dirty and sore, having made a tangible contribution to the wild places we all love.

If you too would like to give back, check out the 2019 edition of the Adopt-a-Trail or Trail Stewards programs at, or contact local field coordinator Emily Cleveland ([email protected]). We’ll have training in the spring, trail crews will return to Lava Lake and Cliff Creek, and our Stewards will continue roaming the area’s most popular trails.

If you’re more of a horse, bike, or motor person, contact the Backcountry Horsemen (, the Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association ([email protected]), the Livingston Bike Club, or the Gallatin Valley Snowmobile Association ([email protected]).