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Love the Outdoors? Here Are Some Practical Ways to Show It

Spend enough time outdoors and you learn to appreciate the beauty so much that it becomes part of your soul. For many people that evolves into a sense of gratitude. And I have found that from that place of gratitude, people who experience nature frequently feel compelled to "give back."

Work party at a nature preserveMy journey as a volunteer began over my frustration with "trail trashers."  This led to thinking about ways to contribute more and find like-minded people who wanted to share in solutions.

It also helped me discover just how many opportunities exist for anyone to get involved.  

Here are some ideas to help get you started:   

Check in at your local REI store

REI partners with—and supports with grants—many volunteer organizations. Local REI stores put a lot of thought into finding organizations that offer fun, safe and productive volunteer events.

All REI stores have a "community wall" or area with flyers and posters for outdoor events and volunteer opportunities as well as print and online event calendars.

Weed eradicationThis can be a great place to promote your project. REI folks love the outdoors as much as you do, so giving back and being good stewards of the environment is in our ethos.

Join or start a Meetup for outdoor volunteers

Meetup groups grew from the ashes of the tragedy on 9/11. What the founder of Meetup observed from this awful experience was that people came together to support each other in a city, New York, that was primarily known for its alienation.

His concept? Develop an online meeting place where people could arrange to connect face-to-face instead of behind the mask of a computer.

The Meetup concept works well for hiking events and can be a great way to organically generate volunteer resources. My local Santa Barbara County (Calif.) Hikers Meetup was launched in May of 2011 with 2 members. Today, less than a year later, we have more than 390 members.

Similarly, our Santa Barbara Outdoor Volunteer Meetup was launched as a cooperative venture between several trails organizations in June of 2011, and we now have more than 80 trail volunteers.

Before you start a volunteer Meetup, do a search for your local area and see if one already exists. If not, search for other individuals or organizations that share your interest and launch a cooperative site.

REI volunteers at stewardship eventProvide food or financial support for a trails project

If hands-on work isn't your thing, then find a local project and offer to provide or pay for food for the volunteers.

Having food, healthy trail snacks and plenty of hydration is important for a successful volunteer project. My mantra for trails project is that "if you feed them, they will come." Feeding a group of volunteers can get expensive, but your generosity will be greatly appreciated.

Partner with VolunteerMatch on

Prefer to sign up online? This offers an easy way to find an event and give your time. Sign up at the volunteer page on

Participate in National Trails Day

The American Hiking Society, along with corporate partners including REI, helps local organizations sponsor National Trails Day projects every year on the first weekend of June. This year it takes place on Saturday, June 2. 

There many resources available to help you plan and execute a trails project as well as a listing of projects you can join on their website.

Dive club helps clean up lakeExample: Last year, our local Santa Barbara-area trails organization adopted a camp that is surrounded by a national forest. The trails from the camp into the national forest were badly overgrown and needed to be brushed and cleaned.

One of our hikers is also a scuba diver, so he volunteered his dive club to come and help clean the lake bottom of trash. We were able to clean both the trails and a waterway.

Help create or join a volunteer cooperative

There is strength in numbers when it comes to trail work or trash pickup.

If you can pull together several smaller organizations, leverage a boy or girl scout troop or get several like-minded business to coordinate a project with their employees, you can get a lot done in a day.

Example: Some REI Santa Barbara team members recently joined a group that included employees from Patagonia, Horny Toad and Deckers Outdoor in a project through the "Backyard Collective" to do a habitat-restoration project in Santa Barbara.

This concept brings together businesses that want to make a difference. There are probably groups like this where you live that would love to have you as a volunteer.

These ideas should help get you started. Tell us about your projects and how you are making a difference in your outdoor community.

Posted on at 1:22 PM

Tagged: meetup, stewardship and volunteer

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Here we are at Sustainable Tahoe ( putting together another event that coincides with the Tour de Tahoe ride around the lake on Sept. 9th, 2012. Saturday, the 8th, we are helping the organizations and agencies that are involved in doing the good work of protecting and preserving the region for future generations, showcase what is so special about this national treasure. The Tahoe Expo will "expose" what you can do while in the region that is not on the billboards or rack cards. Each activity will be guided and reservations will begin July 1st.

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