The United States boasts more than 200,000 miles (321,869 kilometers) of trails crisscrossing its interior and coasts [source: Adventure Crossing]. That's good because 165 million people say they walk for recreation [source: Kemsley, 2008]. The American Hiking Society has been instrumental in increasing the popularity of hiking by protecting, promoting and improving trails across the nation. Better trails mean more hikers, and if the group has its way, more hikers mean better trails.
The American Hiking Society comprises thousands of individual members, as well as more than 275 organizations who believe in promoting and protecting U.S. foot trails. As a nonprofit organization, the society counts on donations from individuals, organizations and membership dues, as well as corporate sponsorship, government agreements and foundation grants.
Membership in the society is less about what it can do for you and more about your support of the organization. As an advocacy organization, it doesn't offer activities such as group hikes, although many of its member organizations do. The American Hiking Society's network of local groups, found in every state, includes hiking clubs, trail conferences, land trusts, conservation groups and other organizations with an interest in hiking trails.
About $30 per year will gain you membership, as well as subscriptions to American Hiker magazine and Backpacker magazine, but most members are likely motivated by the knowledge that their contribution helps to establish and maintain hiking trails throughout the United States.
Dedicated (and altruistic) hikers may want to go beyond mere membership. These nature lovers may be interested in the American Hiking Society's Volunteer Vacations offered in more than 30 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Volunteers from ages 18-80 spend a week building and maintaining trails and shelters, and re-establishing native species. They work in national and state parks, wildlife refuges, nature preserves and other public lands across the country. The only requirements are camping gear and a willingness to get dirty.
Working in groups of six to 15 people, volunteers contribute time, energy and enthusiasm (as well as a small registration fee). According to the American Hiking Society, the vacations provide critical sweat equity and resources to meet underfunded trail program needs and help keep trails open, safe and enjoyable for generations.