Nothing irks Boulder native Ann Baker Easley more than people who walk around muddy trails, cut switchbacks or abandon dog poop bags. So she’s tried to do something about it. For 10 years, Easley, 62, has led a veritable army of volunteers passionate about maintaining Colorado’s outdoor environment.

As executive director of Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC), a statewide nonprofit founded in 1984, she and her staff supervise 95 projects each year. In 2016 alone, this involved 5,400 volunteers and nearly $955,000 in donated labor. VOC projects unfold across Colorado—from city parks and open spaces, to grasslands and foothills, to alpine meadows and peaks. Volunteers seed hillsides after fire, reconstruct trails damaged by flood, remove invasive species and create new trails that can withstand heavier foot and bike traffic.

“The various land managers, such as the Forest Service or local municipalities, can’t do it alone,” she says. “The public has to own their public lands in terms of caring for them, not just using them. That’s the ethic we are trying to sustain.”

All that hard work creates a big appetite. So it’s no surprise that food is a large part of VOC’s lure. “Come volunteer and our crew chefs will feed you well. There’s breakfast burritos, coffee, hors d’oeuvres, a full dinner, even beer at the end of the day,” Easley says.

That makes VOC’s volunteer projects, such as the Hanging Lake Trail near Glenwood Springs or Dixon Trail in Colorado Springs, a bit like a guided camping trip—but one on which you work hard to earn your keep. That’s the point.

“Most of us have desk jobs where the results aren’t immediately apparent,” says Easley. “When our volunteers return to hike a trail they helped build or maintain, there’s a sense of incredible accomplishment, a sense of satisfaction people can’t get in their normal working lives.”

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—Jeff Blumenfeld