Building Trails in the Puget Sound
Building Trails in the Puget Sound

Building Trails in the Puget Sound

If you ever find yourself hiking on San Juan Island, Washington, you might have KEENer Bex! Sakarias to thank for it. 

Bex! recently used her paid KEEN service leave to help build the first public trail in San Juan Island's Cady Mountain Preserve. Read on to learn more about how Bex! used every muscle in her body to help more people enjoy the wildflower meadows and Douglas-fir savannas of Puget Sound, Washington.


How did you hear about/get involved with the San Juan County Conservation Land Bank?
I searched the internet for volunteer opportunities that were outside, within driving distance of my house, and somewhere beautiful and special like the San Juan Islands.

What did you do? 
Together with other volunteers from Oklahoma, Maryland, and Kentucky, I spent a week in Washington state on the San Juan Islands building trails in the Cady Mountain Preserve. This was a project with the San Juan County Conservation Land Bank organized by the American Hiking Society. The Land Bank is a tax-funded conservation organization dedicated to creating and preserving public land in the San Juan Islands. The Cady Mountain Preserve is a natural area on San Juan Island that has been created via land acquisitions by the Land Bank.

I think it’s pretty cool to be reminded that natural spaces and public lands are being built right now, not just in the distant past. These spaces provide important wildlife habitat, and adding trails opens the areas to the public. Cady Mountain does not yet have an official public trail so the one I worked on will be the first. Our small but mighty crew completed over 1/3 mile of new trail over 4 work days in tough spring conditions including temperatures around 50 degrees and a day of torrential rain. We also had some gorgeous sunshine and the good luck to have a beautiful day off to explore.

Birthday carrot cake on the trail, plus fave tools (including KEEN hiking boots!)


What was your favorite memory from volunteering? 
I celebrated my birthday on our last day of trail building. To mark the occasion, I visited a locally bakery on the island and carried a fancy cake into the woods, along with a knife, paper dessert plates, and a bag of mismatched silverware from our camp kitchen kit. I celebrated my birthday with a beautiful view over the water and islands, a dozen people singing to me, and a delicious shared carrot cake.

What was your biggest takeaway from this experience? 
Respect for trail builders! There's a reason we form conservation corps that pay young people to do this kind of work. It is physically challenging and very hard work. To build a sustainable trail that will stand up to use and resist erosion, you don't get to pick the easiest line around the obstacles. Instead, you frequently have to remove rocks, rotten logs, and salal thickets. You're bent over, using your body in ways you're not used to, and wielding tools with fun names – mcleods, grub hoes, rock bars, and pulaskis.

Before and after


Our volunteer group ranged in age from about 40 to 80 years old, making what we accomplished extra impressive. Please wait until next week to ask me if I want to do this again – who knew I had so many different muscles that could be sore all at the same time! (Actually, I’m already mentally plotting for next year on how to put together a KEEN crew to go up and do a project with the Land Bank.)

What would you say to others interested in participating in this volunteer experience? 
Even if, or perhaps especially if, the work you do or the conditions you do it in are tougher than you expected, you will still walk away with amazing stories!

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