“This desire for adventure and nature and beauty — I found it on the Maah Daah Hey Trail,” says Nick Ybarra, the founder of Save the Maah Daah Hey.
“It was like the romance of my life began. And I just fell in love with the badlands, and especially the Maah Daah Hey Trail. It goes 150 miles right through the heart of the badlands.”
Ybarra says he became mindful of trail upkeep by necessity. “I had never volunteered for trail work a day in my life,” he says. “I thought trails just magically appeared and you just go and enjoy them.”
But federal funding from the United States Forest Service fell off — and so did the trail. “Miles of the trail just went back to grass. To watch the trail disappear was like losing a family member. That’s why I started doing it,” he says.
Ybarra began collaborating with the U.S. Forest Service to maintain the Maah Daah Hey trail more rigorously than before. “The Forest Service has a fleet of DR brush mowers. These things are 400 pound hogs,” he explains. “We’ll head out 5 to 7 miles out on the trail and mow one side, turn around and come back and mow the other side.”
The mowed grass makes a trip through the badlands more pleasant for bikers and hikers alike, Ybarra says. “It allows hikers to walk through there without fearing there’s a rattlesnake right there on the side of the trail.”
Ybarra relies on the help of volunteers like Priscilla Crain to complete the arduous 150-mile journey.
“This trail – having biked on it for the past three years, I’ve fallen in love with it,” says Crain, a firefighter from Williston. “It’s just freeing. You come out here and you feel alive.”
“The trail would be gone if this work wasn’t done, and no one else was able or willing to do it,” Ybarra says. “To have other people come alongside you and say, I just want to help you — I’ve made some of the best friendships that I’ve ever had doing this volunteer work.”
“There’s just something spiritual about this place,” he says. “You can’t describe it. You can’t explain it to someone. But when you’re here and you feel it, you have that sense that this is one of those places in the world that is extra-special.”
Nick Ybarra and the volunteers of Save the Maah Daah Hey are all people you should know.
Click here to learn more about Save the Maah Daah Hey, and to donate to the group’s efforts in the badlands.