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A volunteer group that has worked constructing trails around Prescott over the past 15 years, is an ever-changing group made up mostly of retirees called the "Over the Hill Gang."

arrow Author George Sheats is on the Planning Committee for the 2013 American Trails International Trails Symposium

 

"Over the Hill Gang" volunteers for Prescott's trail system

By George Sheats, Volunteer Coordinator, Over the Hill Gang, and President, Yavapai Trails Association

 

photo of men on rocks

Over the Hill Gang" volunteers enjoying the view of Prescott, AZ

Prescott has the perfect ingredients for constructing trails using mostly free labor. This "volunteer" labor comes in all shapes and sizes ranging from schools, church groups, and non-profits to"‘non-voluntary" community service and restitution programs. There are also more specialized trail building groups such as the local mountain biking, hiking, and equestrian clubs.

One local group that has worked constructing trails around Prescott over the past 15 years, is an ever changing group made up mostly of retirees called the "Over the Hill Gang." The OHG has no formal organization structure, has no meetings, no membership procedures, etc. but prides itself by completing sections of trails 2-3 mornings per week.

With Prescott’s great outdoors, open areas, forests, and rugged landscapes the perfect setting exists to put the OHG to work building trails.

photo of short bridge, boulders, and lake

Finishing the Willow Lake Bridge Project

With leadership from the Prescott National Forest, City of Prescott Parks Department, and other land managers the design and layout for planned trails are mapped and marked for the trail construction crews. Clearly marking the intended routes is the first step in preparation for the crews. "Same day re-routes" are not appreciated if they are due to a lack of planning and unclear marking.

With the recent OHG crew size averaging 15-20 women and men, it is important to have several hundred yards "marked and forged" for both maximizing construction efficiency and safety. It is best to spread out the volunteers and not work in clusters of over 4-6 persons.

Some prefer working by themselves. Moving a large boulder may take a team of 4-5 but swinging a pick mattock, McLeod, or Polaski axe needs its own safe space. Most volunteers have their own preferences for tools and specialized tasks and need to be left alone to do their thing. i.e. don’t micro-manage or force un-needed perfectionism.

New and unseasoned volunteers should be coached not to attempt to keep up with more experienced workers. Everyone needs to work within their own capabilities , drink lots of water, rest when needed, and work only as long or short as they want on any given day. Three (3) hours on any given day is about as long as volunteer crews should work.

photo of group of young workers

Completed steps on a section of trail

Having a regular and expanding list of volunteers, works best when it doesn’t take a lot of "red tape" to join the crews. Paperwork such as liability waiver forms, personal application forms, etc. don’t settle well with most volunteers. Coaching safe practices, protective clothing, etc. is important but always needs to match the weather, location, experience levels, and specific tasks being performed.

The scheduling of regular work days and times is important with notifications going to each member of the pool of volunteers. On holidays and weather cancelations many regulars like to get together for breakfast or coffee. Even a few social gatherings, holiday parties, lunches, etc. are enjoyed by those who have been working alongside one another and enjoy each other’s company.

You wouldn’t always assume they have such a strong friendship if you listen to their continuous bickering and back and forth dialog. This type of "verbal sport" is the world in which the OHG members thrive! Some members like to work on "special projects" in a small group such as constructing a bridge, retaining wall, building steps, or working an extremely challenging section of trail. These can sometimes be scheduled on another day and not be part of the regular full crew.

photo of two young women with big rock

Volunteers on the watson Loop Trail

Nothing encourages the volunteers more than seeing the trail they just completed as they walk out at the end the day’s work. The accumulated trail segments add up quickly to complete a "Named Trail" or "Trails System." The trail signs and maps go up and descriptions of the trails start showing up in emails, web sites, blogs, newsletters, and newspaper articles.

One final note, there are all the stories and memories replayed over the months and years. How about the time you hit a bee’s nest, had the boulder on your big toe, the mouse that ate your cookie, the 10 foot tall boulder that looks like a butt, the black thumbnail, etc. Remember the rule, "never let the facts get in the way of a good trail building story."

 

For more information:

To see examples of OHG-built trails go to www.prescotttrails.com

 

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