I’ve been volunteering for the National Park Service in Point Reyes for three years now, though one of them probably doesn’t count, since all volunteer activities there shut down when the world spiraled into madness last year. The two years I was able to patrol the trails of this beautiful place, however, gave me more than enough to talk about.
Now, hoping we could all get back soon (and missing Point Reyes more than anything), I thought it was a good time to share with you what a typical day in my life as a trail patrol volunteer looks like.
I usually wake up between 5:30 and 6:30 on the day I’m heading out to Point Reyes. I don’t live exactly near-by, and beating the traffic is one of the reasons I would leave the house as early as possible. The other one? I love seeing the sun rise on my way there, or when I arrive at the headquarters. When the morning fog is burning off, the whole world shines with this otherworldly morning light. It’s the most beautiful time.
Arrive in the morning — or whenever I want, really. This position, at least here in Point Reyes, doesn’t have a schedule set in stone. I need to put in a certain amount of hours per month, but it’s completely up to me when I do so, as long as it’s between 9 am and 5 pm.
This being said, there are days when it’s, logically, more desirable for me to be there; like holidays or extended weekends. There were also many days when I came in before 8 am and stayed out on the trails past 7 pm. I loved being there early, meeting the rangers, and potentially helping out with the horses before I could clock in and head out on the trails.
Clocking in is easy; pick up my radio and anything else I might need at the headquarters, call the dispatch and tell them where I’m heading, and hit the trails.
I stop at Bovine Bakery for coffee and breakfast and then spend the day hiking, engaging with visitors, and communicating with the dispatch anything that may come up, from fallen trees to dogs where they shouldn’t be to injured people.
Simply said, my job is to answer questions visitors may have, educate them, make sure they don’t die out there, and make sure they don’t destroy the land, either.
I’m not always successful at doing my job. A stellar example of this is when I met a person whom we shall call M. (Your guess what this might stand for, it rhymes with boron, which is a chemical element with more brains about it than this person.) I saw them trying to go off the trail towards a ‘slightly more dangerous than the average’ part of the park. The moment they saw me, they got back on the official trail and engaged in a conversation with me.
They told me they wanted to walk out to a rock formation. The trail to it had been closed because the side of the cliff collapsed and was still unstable. The trail had been closed for a few years now, is overgrown, and not even considered a trail anymore. I politely explained to them why it wasn’t advisable to leave the official trails, and especially in this case. I told them about the collapsed cliff, the danger of further rockslides, and how human traffic aids further erosion.
By now, I know what the face of a person who’s thinking “f you” on the inside looks like. M was wearing that same expression. When we were done talking, they turned around and pretended to walk away.
How do I know they only pretended and didn’t actually walk away?
Because maybe an hour later, the radios went wild, and from what I could collect, M was being flown out from that exact area of the park by a helicopter.
Sometimes, I’d drive myself to trailheads, sometimes, I’d leave my car at the HQ and have a ranger drive me to wherever they need to go in the morning and hike back from there. Those adventures can turn out to be quite exciting because I can’t just turn around and go back to my car when I get my feet wet or realize I forgot my food on my front seat — I have to hike all the way, which can be only eight miles, but also 15, like this hike, majority of which I had to complete in shoes that not only got drenched in the ocean but also fell apart.
Occasionaly, I’d be patrolling the trails on a horseback, too. (Probably my favourite way of doing my job!)
A Few Curiosities I’ve Seen During My Service
I wrote and posted this as a separate post a few weeks ago, take a peek here! It includes a guy who took his parrot for a walk 🙂
Besides the human-related stories in the post, I’ve also seen:
- a raven take on a turkey vulture
- a raven take on a coyote
- said coyote lose and run away
(Yes, ravens here are pretty badass.)
- an elk trip over something and fall down
- ocean waves so tall they poured over the beach into a lagoon
- wind so strong it played music on the power lines near Point Reye lighthouse
(But seriously here, the winds there get bad. If a ranger tells you not to go there, don’t — you could be easily thrown off a cliff by a gust of wind and we couldn’t do anything about it because helicopters can’t safely fly in it and boats can’t get close to the cliff.)
End of the Day
When I’m done with my trail patrol, I get back to the HQ (either walking or driving from wherever I parked), call the dispatch to clock out, log the trails I hiked, my miles and hours, and return all the equipment. If it’s late and most rangers have gone home already, I make sure to double-check I locked up properly.
I then drive to a campground for volunteers and employees of the park. Most of the time, I’m alone there, since I’m perhaps the only volunteer who doesn’t live near-by. There’s a fire cache there with a bathroom that has — gasp — a shower. It’s dim and filled with spiders but hey, it’s a shower with hot water and I appreciate that at the end of a long day, especially if it rained all day and I’m frozen to the bone. (There are also bottles of pre- and post-contact poison oak scrub which saved my butt a few times already.)
I set up my tent somewhere nearby, depending on whether the grass is cut, or sleep in my hammock hung between my car and a flag pole. (I was once visited and screamed at by a mountain lion while sleeping there in a hammock. You can read about that experience here.)
(One time, when it was real bad outside, I slept on a table inside the fire cache on the recommendation of my supervisor. Technically, there’s a sign that says it’s not allowed, but it was raining and hailing cats and dogs with winds so strong it would be impossible to put up my tent and have it survive the night, and so cold not even dogs would be left sleeping outside.)
I cook dinner for myself, brush my teeth, and go to sleep, sometimes reading a book for a bit but usually just falling asleep right away even if it’s still light outside.
The Next Day
Wake up a bit later than 6 am, make coffee and breakfast for myself, and plan out the routes for the day.
Pack up if I was staying only for one night, head out to the HQ, and start another day filled with beautiful nature, inviting trails, and (hopefully) friendly visitors.
Thank you for reading about what a day in my life as a trail patrol volunteer looks like. I hope you enjoyed it. There’s always so much more than I could fit into one post, and if you want to hear more about my adventures while volunteering, or about Point Reyes in general, let me know and I’ll be happy to write more. After all, I love Point Reyes as if it was my home.
There’s also a post about what A Day in My Life as an Aid Station Volunteer looks like, which you might find a bit more entertaining.
Have a great day!
More from Point Reyes:
A Random Day in the Life of Point Reyes National Seashore (video)
Blue Morning Blues in Point Reyes (photo)
How Not to Survive the Night When There’s a Predator in Your Campsite
2 thoughts on “A Day in My Life as a Trail Patrol Volunteer”
Hello from greater Philadelphia. You have an exciting volunteer job. Maybe I missed it in the essay: how many days per week, and hours per week, do you volunteer?
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Hello, great having you here! Yes, it surely is exciting. I personally put in about two full weekends per month, about 48 hour per month. On months when I get vacation from work or generally have more time, I put in up to twice that. But different volunteer positions have different time requirements and levels of flexibility, and there’s something for everyone — there are even one-time volunteer opportunities like habitat restoration etc.
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