A dedicated and hard-working group of Los Padres National Forest volunteers helps make sure hiking trails don’t get too overgrown with brush, and sometimes performs even bigger jobs, like chopping up dead trees that pose hazards.

Forest rangers stage a First Saturday of the Month trail day when volunteers gather at the Ojai Ranger District office before carpooling to trailheads to start working.

I’ve joined the crews a couple of times, on the beautiful Potrero John Trail and the popular Rose Valley Falls Trail, and learned that once you start using loppers and shears to cut back brush, it’s hard to stop. It’s also a hearty workout that had me sweating and, the next day, feeling some muscles I never knew I had.

Agoura Hills resident Bill Brenden has been performing trail work for about seven years and says it’s rewarding to see the fruits of his labor when a trail is cleared.

“I love being in the outdoors, and I love the feeling of giving back and helping to maintain these trails and make them nice for everybody,” says Brenden. “It’s really neat to see what you’ve accomplished and know that if somebody didn’t do it, the trail would just disappear and nobody would get to enjoy it.”

Mickey McTigue of Ventura is a specialist on sawing trees and has been a designated Volunteer Wilderness Ranger for 16 years. He volunteered more casually for another seven years before that, and has learned all about sawing.

“That’s not what I worked at in my life, but since I’ve been working in the forest a lot, I got the training I needed, so I’m a cross-cut sawyer with hand saws. We use those in the wilderness since you can’t use chain saws in the wilderness,” says McTigue.

His status and experience also allow him to drive Forest Service four-wheel-drive vehicles into the mountains, and travel on interesting roads that are normally closed to public use. He’s also assigned his own radio and can organize his own trips into the backcountry when specific jobs need to be accomplished.

“We just drove in behind Figueroa Mountain to Manzana schoolhouse. There was a large dead pine tree that was killed in the Zaca fire, probably 4 feet at the base and the part that was on the road was 30 inches or so, and there were lots of limbs. My wife and I and one other guy took the chainsaws in and cut that up and cleared the road,” says McTigue. “It’s 13 miles back on dirt roads, so that’s not available to everyone since you have to have keys.”

Ojai Ranger District wilderness trails manager Heidi Anderson encourages anyone with a desire to enjoy nature and give back to the community to join them for the First Saturday of the Month events. She chooses trails that are important for public access but are also easy enough for anybody to work on. “It’s basically geared towards the first-time trail person and we hike anywhere between two to five miles,” says Anderson.

Anderson says that the large budget they used to have to clear trails years ago has disappeared, so the work of volunteers has become more important than ever before. “As the budgets continue to decline, it’s critical that we have volunteers involved in our trail program,” says Anderson. “Holding these trail days is twofold. Part of it is to maintain the trails, and then secondly to connect the community to the resources we have basically in our own backyard.”