Janesville man pays to toil on trail building
Why would a guy invest hundreds of dollars of his own money to volunteer for hot, sweaty work across the country?
Well, that’s what Janesville’s Bill Simmons did last week. Bill, a General Motors retiree, is no ordinary fellow (anyone who knows him realizes that).
Generally, I play racquetball with Bill almost every week. Now age 70, Bill stays fit but is beyond his mountain climbing days, though his car’s personalized license plate still reflects his appreciation for the Rocky Mountains.
Last week found him in the state of Washington and about 60 miles northeast of Seattle. He was part of a crew of 17 wielding pick axes, shovels and saws to help build a new leg of the Iron Goat Trail.
The work was hard—some of the towering trees had fallen across the planned trail path, requiring the volunteers to cut up and move the logs. And the crew toiled in hot weather. Bill suffered from dehydration one morning.
Bill invested $250 for the privilege. Volunteers got room and board but came from as far away as Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York and also paid their own airfare.
Why would they do that?
“To give back to nature, develop the trails for other people, and it’s fun camaraderie,” Bill told me. “You get outdoors, and they give you a lot of information on the trail.”
Bill appreciated the history of the trail, being built alongside an old railroad line that rolled along switchbacks and through tunnels and served as one of the first routes west. It also was the scene of tragedy. A 1910 avalanche near Wellington knocked the train off the tracks and killed almost 100 people. Bill read a book by Gary Krist on the disaster. After that tragedy, crews built snow sheds of wood and concrete to cover the tracks and keep avalanches from sweeping off the trains.
The region gets about 14 feet of snow each winter, and despite last week’s heat, Bill said a snowdrift remained alongside the chalet in Stevens Pass where crewmembers spent the nights.
Bill booked this workweek through the American Hiking Society. He has made such weeklong trips about 10 times through the years, often with that group but also helping groups serving the Cumberland Trail and the Grand Canyon.
It wasn’t all work. Bill and comrades enjoyed exploring the area and a talk by a forest ranger on the region’s history.
The Volunteers for Outdoor Washington are the main movers behind Iron Goat Trail, which is longer than 10 miles. Bill and his crew were adding a leg more than a mile long and says the organization might sponsor another trail crew next summer.
In recent years, I’ve enjoyed hiking trails in state and national parks around the country. I realize they don’t get there by magic—they’re built through the hard work and dedication of paid crews and volunteers like my buddy Bill Simmons.
Thanks, Bill; perhaps on some future vacation, I’ll be able to hike and thus get first-hand appreciation for some of your labor of love.
A volunteer crew works on the Iron Goat Trail in the state of Washington.
Bill Simmons of Janesville pauses for a photo during the morning hike to the work site.