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My Unforgettable Experience Doing Trail Work on Greece's Greenest Island

As a volunteer through WorkAway, I was able to explore the island of Skopelos, get to know the local community, and help maintain a trail system that has been around for centuries.

By: Jenna Mulligan + Save to a List

Can you hear it? There is a catchy Abba song drifting in through your window, calling you to drop everything and head to the turquoise water, the crowded taverna, and the whitewashed, stone-paved alleys of an island called Skopelos. At least, that's what happened to me. I watched Mamma Mia, and despite my usual apathy towards musicals, I fell for the Greek landscape of those exuberant, cheesy dance scenes. 

Some years later, I realized that the "Mamma Mia island" was less fictionalized than most Hollywood settings. I came across a Workaway listing, searching for trail work volunteers on the island where the film was made. In exchange for five hours of work each day, I would have room and board and - most importantly - a chance to explore. I was in.

It was early March when I first spotted the Skopelos port from the deck of the ferry. My host, Heather, was waiting in the small parking lot beside a cluster of women wrapped in puffy jackets and scarves. The end of a blustery Greek winter was in sight, Heather told me as she unlocked the hatch of her small Jeep, revealing a backseat filled with rakes and hedge shears.

For the next three weeks, we would drive that Jeep to various trail heads around the island and spend our mornings trimming branches, pulling invasive weeds, and slowly progressing along the small, rural trails. Heather runs two interwoven operations on the island. The first is Skopelos Trails, which is a conservancy focused nonprofit that seeks to restore, mark, and maintain trails which zig-zag between various beaches and bays. Heather has been recruiting friends and, eventually, international volunteers to help her in this project since the early 90s. Her other decades-long project has been acting as a trail guide for tourists, and her proceeds go back into purchasing equipment for maintenance. 

Many of the historic paths across Skopelos are calderimi, cobbled stone paths that connect towns, plots of land, or lead to one of several monasteries on the island. Alongside these paths, ancient springs are in various states of decay. Neglect causes the stones to be buried beneath vines, roots, and dirt, so after clipping back vegetation, we would turn downward and dig to uncover the stones.

Some stretches of path grazed the edges of tiered olive tree fields, filled with passing groups of sheep and goats. Others were high on the island's hills, where views of the gleaming ocean would fill the horizon. On well-maintained trails, we could walk from the Skopelos town all the way to another stony beach, and we'd rest with our feet in the ocean, surrounded by pine forests and the warm spring sun.

The community of Skopelos is comprised of long-time locals and slightly newer residents who have retired or retreated to the island from Europe. They welcomed me in with noisy laughter at lunch time feasts, and community gatherings at art shows and events hosted in town. This town, built into a hillside, was a maze of streets through whitewashed homes, but each alley funneled downward to the outdoor seating of the most popular restaurants, where Heather introduced me to family and friends.

The community was every bit as joyful and spirited as Hollywood had depicted.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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