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ON A BUDGET

Trailblazers Enjoy Rock-Bottom Prices

November 19, 2000|ARTHUR FROMMER

Volunteering your services while on vacation can be a darned expensive undertaking. The volunteer programs of one venerable group, for example, cost $1,500 to $3,000 per person, excluding air fare. So what's a frugal do-gooder to do?

Help the hikers.

The American Hiking Society offers volunteer vacations whose prices can't be beat. In the rest of this year and throughout 2001, it will charge $60 for a one- or two-week volunteer vacation, helping maintain and create ecologically sound trails in national and state parks and recreation areas.

Volunteers have constructed bridges, dug trenches to prevent erosion from water runoff, removed fences and dilapidated structures, pulled invasive weeds and built steps into the sides of hills. They perform these good deeds in some of the most beautiful areas on Earth: the Grand Canyon, Badlands National Park in South Dakota, Haleakala National Park in Hawaii, the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina..

Why isn't this work being done by the government? "The National Park Service gets less than one-tenth of 1% of the federal budget," said Mary Margaret Sloan, president of AHS. "Most of the national forests are so understaffed that there is not even one person available per forest to oversee the trails."

So grab your tent, roll up your sleeping bag and get busy. The $60 fee (plus a $12 online membership fee) covers training, campsite charges and, in most cases, all meals. Volunteers are responsible for getting to the site and providing their own camping equipment (though in a few cases rustic cabins are used instead of tents).

Groups of four to 15 put in full but fun days, working from about 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Past volunteers have said these outings are better than guided hiking trips because they get the chance to explore beautiful areas in fine company.

The AHS recently posted its 2001 volunteer vacations on its Web site, http://www.americanhiking.org. In all, AHS is expecting to offer vacations with places for 700 to 800 volunteers. While the bulk will fall between April and October, several trips to warmer states are scheduled during the winter.

For more information, call (301) 565-6704.

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