By bike and on foot, they ferried gravel and shovels deep into Snohomish County's Paradise Valley Conservation Area. The task for the day was patching up Lloyd Trail, a popular hiking and biking track.
Their labor helps keep the paths from turning into messy mud bogs during the rainy season. At other times, they've cleared routes of brush or sawed away fallen trees after storms. The trees often get salvaged to build raised boardwalks or wooden trail features that test riders' balance.
"This is kind of like therapy for me," said Crowley, 51, a CEO for a Bellevue software company. "You finish for the day and you can say, 'Wow, I got something done.'"
Crowley and his fellow volunteers are members of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, a Seattle-based mountain-bike advocacy group. They've been leading trail-building parties at the nearly 800-acre county park near Highway 522 even before it reopened to the public in 2009.
They held 23 work parties last year, totalling about 350 hours of free labor. Their work, like that of hiking, horseback-riding and conservation groups, is essential to keeping the Snohomish County parks system running. Other volunteers at Paradise Valley include the Eagle Scouts and Water Tenders, a group dedicated to protecting the Bear Creek basin. Students from Duvall's Cedar Crest High School have worked on the bike trails, too.
"They're vital to keeping parks like this open and usable, at Paradise Valley in particular," said Chris Mueller, a senior county park planner. "If it wasn't for the volunteers' involvement, we wouldn't have gotten it (Paradise Valley) open when we did, and they do a large chunk of the maintenance out there."
The work crew on a February morning included Crowley and three other men: Bob Bournique, 50, of Duvall, who works in aerospace purchasing; Jim Hansen, 46, of Kenmore, a flight-crew member on Boeing test aircraft; and Mark Underdown, 40, a radio tech for T-Mobile, who also lives in Kenmore.
"We kind of have our godfathers for each park," Hansen said.
At Paradise Valley, that role has fallen to Crowley, who lives next door.
Their work that day involved building up the trail surface by scraping away leafy debris, filling in ruts and making sure water drains from the path.
Bournique showed how a puddle or a root in the middle of the path pushes riders to the edges. Over time, that makes the trails wider.
They fill in holes with a mixture of gravel and the golden-brown dirt found under decaying leaves and logs a few steps away from the trail. They use a McLeod firefighting tool, which looks like a cross between a hoe and a rake, to tamp down the surface. They make sure that the sides dip away from the path, so water won't pool.
"It's really just thinking about what the water is going to do," Crowley said.
The experience levels varied.
"I'm a rookie; this is my first one," said Underdown, who wanted to contribute to the upkeep on the trails he rides.
Bournique, on the other hand, has years of trail building to his credit, including at King County's Duthie Hill mountain bike park.
"If you build something really super fun, you better expect that it'll get a lot of traffic," he said.
He started riding the Paradise Valley area in the early 1990s, when it was a of haphazard maze of trails, some of them used by off-road vehicles. The county bought most of the land over a decade ago. The county later shut down the area for several years, closing some trails and developing a plan to accommodate hikers, horseback riders and cyclists.
"After it reopened, I didn't even recognize the park," Hansen said.
As worked progressed on Lloyd Trail, mountain bikers had to come to a stop to scoot around the volunteers with their tools and buckets of gravel. Almost every cyclist offered words of appreciation.
"It's you guys who are doing all this work," one man said. "Well, thank you for getting in the way."
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about volunteer opportunities at Snohomish County parks, go to www.snocoparks.org and click on "get involved" on the left-hand side of the page. Or call 425-388-6604.
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