For many who grew up here, an evening at Red Grade meant one thing: a party. While the nature just off the road is some of the most treasured in the region, few noticed as they sped by, leaving evidence of their evening in pull-offs along the way. It was hard to imagine that Red Grade could ever become a wholesome destination…until now.

Things are changing for the better. For the high school students at Fort McKenzie this summer, Red Grade was a destination for something entirely different: volunteering on the trails. In just one day this June, thirty-five student and faculty volunteers built a section of trail, armored a lower gully with rocks, cleared branches for picnic areas, pulled weeds, planted several dozen trees, and even found the time to tell some jokes.

They set a high bar for a summer of hard work.

“I go up there right next to the trails in the amazing scenery. I sit on the edge where all the trees and flowers we had planted are at. It is the most relaxing alone time at the trails. I sit down and look down at our beautiful little town. The trees and rivers are just amazing to look at. I never did this until we went up and helped with this project. I never thought to. It’s a very good coping skill for me.”   – Haley, sophomore at Ft. McKenzie

It started immediately. This time last year, as our staff and volunteers broke ground on new trail and crews finished reconstruction of the parking lots, you could already feel the difference from a year before on Red Grade road and the surrounding area. Trash disappeared from parking lots and ditches. Idling vehicles no longer had plumes of smoke coming from cracked windows – instead, they were filled with parents scrambling to find sunscreen and hats for their kids. And, take it or leave it, but the port-a-john is rumored to be the cleanest in the county.

With the community taking pride in the trails, Red Grade is no longer a sketchy destination – it’s a community-owned trail system, a part of each of us, and a part of our volunteers. To the students of Fort McKenzie, we want to say “thank you”. It’s because of these kids, and people like you, that conservation comes to life here in our community.

Over half of these students are volunteering at the Biketoberfest fundraiser this year. After all, since this place is part of who these kids are and who they will become, they love to share what makes it special.

“Going up to Red Grade Trail and helping build it made me appreciate nature more. I have been able to get my family to hike with me up the trails and see some of the stuff we have done. I love going up to see the progress of the trees I planted and see how some of the other things we did are doing. I plan to volunteer to help this place expand and grow so others can enjoy Red Grade just as I have.”    – Jade, sophomore at Ft. McKenzie