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Volunteer vacations that take to the trails

Organizations give volunteers the opportunity to help preserve the environment. NBC's Summer Sanders reports.
/ Source: TODAY

“Today” ends a special week-long series on volunteer vacations with a Sierra Club outing that has volunteers working to improve damaged trails. “Today” special correspondent Summer Sanders tagged along as 17 volunteers take to the trails at the beautiful Guadalupe Mountains in Texas.

The Guadalupe Mountains National Park is one of Texas' hidden treasures. 

 “Yosemite gets millions of visitors a year, this park gets less than 200,000,” says park superintendent Ellis Richard.

The park is about 86,000 acres in size, and has 80 miles of trail. 

 “We don't have a permanent trail crew. We haven't had a permanent trail crew probably since the trails were constructed decades ago,” explains Richard. 

So in come the Sierra Club volunteers. Founded in 1892 the Sierra Club offers close to 90 volunteer vacations a year.

James Moody is the team leader and he says the volunteers really make a difference in the trails and in the park, “The head ranger told us when she was walking with us the other night that almost 70 percent of the trail work that gets done in this part is done by volunteers,” he explains.

Volunteers like 31-year-old Brian Stundick…

“It's hard work, very hard work at times, but I don't mind it at all. I sit behind a desk for most the of the year, so to get out here for a week and pound the trails isn't too bad. It can be actually pretty rewarding. I’ve enjoyed it,” says Stundick.

Brian is the youngest of the 17 volunteers, who for four out of five days, hike up the mountains right after breakfast to work on maintaining the washed out trails. 

This is not a full-service vacation, but rather a service vacation. No one is there to pamper these volunteers. Some stay in tents, the others in modest accommodations on camp grounds. Everyday they help cook their own meals, they clean up after themselves and work a full day on the trails.

"You come out here. You sweat a little bit. You mash your finger and you know, you bond with the people. And I have friends that I've had for years and will continue to have and so we have a lot of fun,” says Kenneth Fielder, another volunteer. 

And while they're having fun, they're also making a difference. 

"When they leave, they can come back years from now and say, ‘You know I helped reconstruct that trail. That's part of me in there.’ And I think that means a lot to people," says Richard.

As these volunteers brave long hikes, strong winds, prickly plants and hours of strenuous work, they end day with some porch time.

"This part of the day is the best. When beer flows free and everyone is well relaxed,” says volunteer Roointon Pavri. 

"The day is filled with lots of best times. Some of the best times are when you're up there and you just finished a project and you kind of stand up and look at it and say, boy that was a mess an hour ago and now it's really nice and I think it's going to stay there for 50 years," says James Case, another volunteer.