On July 24 and 25, you could be one of about 150 people who will join Cathy Moyer’s Volunteers for Outdoor California (V-O-CAL) to work at Las Trampas Regional Wilderness on the Sycamore Trail, right on the ridgeline, with what Moyer says are “incredible” views of both Mount Diablo and San Francisco.
According to Moyer, this area is just that–a wilderness. “Even though it’s only five minutes outside of San Ramon, it’s pretty rugged and remote,” she says. The group will hike two miles to get to the work site, where they’ll be clearing brush and repairing the trail.
This remote bit of trail is a perfect fit for V-O-CAL’s unusual model: throw a whole lot of people at a project for an entire weekend. Because they stay for two days and camp on site, says Moyer, they’ll have “a solid chunk of time to get something done,” unlike other trail groups that come in with smaller groups for only a few hours. Those groups do great work on hundreds of miles of more accessible trails, but it’s tough for that model to work when you have a two hour hike just to get to the work site.
Although the Las Trampas outing requires some strenuous hiking, there’s a place for “people who like to hike but not dig.” Moyer says V-O-CAL also needs volunteers to help around the camp and in the kitchen, and there will be “a lot of opportunity to do lighter work,” like moving brush to avoid fire hazard.
According to Moyer, V-O-CAL is “the only group that routinely takes 150 people at a time to camp for the weekend.” Even with such a large workforce, they manage to stay efficient. “All the volunteers get really good supervision and direction. That really makes a big difference,” she says.
With so many people working, a single weekend can easily pencil out to about the same number of hours a full-time employee might work in a year. For underfunded park districts, that means a lot.
V-O-CAL has two other projects scheduled for the fall. On August 21 and 22, they will be working at Corona Heights, home of the Randall Museum. “We’ll be building a brand new trail right in the heart of San Francisco,” says Moyer. And then they’ll be in Napa from October 15 through 17.
The process of choosing the trip locations is “a mixture of voodoo and science,” Moyer joked. They try to keep an even geographical distribution of sites throughout the Bay Area, as well as a range of different partners. In particular, Moyer seeks out projects at urban parks. She hopes that the organized weekend experience her group provides will encourage people to venture out on hikes and camping trips themselves. “People who have never really had a camping experience might follow it out on their own.”
Moyer founded V-O-CAL in 2005 after moving here from Colorado, where she worked with a similar organization called Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado. She closed the software company she owned and wanted to volunteer more, but she quickly discovered that there was nothing like that Colorado organization in the Bay Area. “There are a lot of groups that do periodic trail work in a park,” she says, “but nobody else moves around and works throughout the whole region.”
V-O-CAL has grown to be what Moyer describes as “a pretty robust organization.” She is always looking for more volunteers, and encourages you to join them at Las Trampas in July. “You’ll get your cardio in, and you won’t have to go to the gym!”
Visit v-o-cal.org to register or find more information.