While the perks of hiking have widely been discussed, lost in the limelight of its mental and physical health benefits is a very rewarding opportunity that is rarely acknowledged — the experience of maintaining and preserving the health of hiking trails.

Early Saturday morning, a group of twelve volunteers from Birthright Armenia met at the HIKEArmenia office, ready to set out for a picturesque trip north to the Lori Region. 2.5 hours later, we traded the sounds of the city for the sounds of serenity in the village of Odzun, surrounded by blooming trees and verdant fields. We took our time to tighten our hiking boots a little more than usual, drank an extra swig of water, and had a proper stretch in preparation for the day’s agenda that had more than just a hike planned. We were there to clean, fix, mark, and restore the Goat! Goats! Goats! trail from Odzun to Kobayr in time for a new season of local and international travelers. 
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After a thorough clean-up of trash, a trunk full of building equipment was distributed amongst our group, and off we went. Positioned in our designated area of the trail, we were each handed a tool and taught how to use it safely and effectively. The McLeod, a double-sided tool combining a rake and a hoe, worked its way into the soil with every swing breaking up obstructive plants and brush. Preventing parts of the trail from getting overgrown, we broke into the trail and raked away enough debris to reveal a fresh, clear route.  A water break was in order after a few hours and I took a moment to feel present in what I was really doing beyond breaking up a bit of soil in the forest.

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I’m so used to looking ahead to open pockets of epic views and getting lost in the beautiful details hidden within the trees. Sweaty, stinky, and a bit out of breath, I never realized how much the hard work of others allowed me to enjoy all these moments. What a privilege, I thought. I realized a newfound appreciation for all the years of my reliance on well-marked and maintained trails. They’ve granted me the time and ease to escape busy days behind a computer screen and toss myself into a completely different world in nature. Carrying just the necessities and a good pair of boots, these trails allow me to submerge myself into places that would otherwise look intimidating and unwelcoming. Postage signs at the beginning of natural parks are like entryways inviting us into a world that’s foreign to most of us and the trails that follow are our highways helping us navigate through the unknown. Without the hard work of trail finders and builders, most of us would be excluded from one of the greatest opportunities to experience what lies in our backyard and beyond.
My moment of reflection and appreciation gave me the motivation to work a bit harder. This small patch of land I was asked to clean was a lot more significant than I first understood, and I have no doubt that others felt the same. By the end of the day, sliding away the beads of sweat from our eyebrows and looking over our shoulders, we took a step back to recognize how much our collective effort actually mattered.  Broken branches were moved aside, trash collected, fresh paint shining on worn-out markings. Just a couple of hours of work and so much was done and new friends were made.

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Tired but proud, we returned to our bus feeling a sense of appreciation for the work that had been done before us and rewarded by our part in maintaining it for future hikers. Around this time, I would make a social media post of the beautiful scenery from the day in hope of inspiring others to hike Armenia’s magical trails. Instead, I wanted to showcase the smiling faces of those who contributed to making these trails possible.
The impact of this experience is one that I will carry with me for all my future hikes. Amongst the many pictures of views, there will be handfuls of those showing how clean, well-thought-out, and easy Armenia’s trails have become. I’ll stop to do my part next time to tidy up a piece of messy trail and encourage others to do the same. I will draw the attention of fellow hikers to how lucky we are to experience Armenia’s nature in such a safe and exciting way. And lastly, as someone who’s experienced the magic of these mountains, I’ll pay it forward by volunteering my time to keep it so and hope other hikers will be motivated to do the same.
I want to thank HIKEArmenia and Birthright Armenia for teaming up to organize this day full of impact and fulfillment.