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Work Party Registrations and COVID-19

Public health concerns have affected the number of work parties we are able to offer, when we’re able to offer them and how many people are able to attend. Find out more about waitlists, limited work parties, and how we're navigating COVID-19

Photo by Pauline Cantor.
Thank you for sticking with us as we navigate an uncertain year. Photo by Pauline Cantor.

While WTA is operating under COVID-19 safety protocols, we have restricted the number of volunteers who can be on a work party.

Safety is WTA's number one priority, so these limitations are necessary, but we know they can be frustrating. We heard from volunteers that more transparency around how we are managing rosters would be helpful, so here is some insight into our process and a look at what we’re doing to improve the volunteer experience for everyone.

COVID-19 Specific Restrictions

Public health concerns have affected the number of work parties we are able to offer, when we’re able to offer them and how many people are able to attend.

  • Work party capacity is determined by county phasing. Currently that means most of our work parties are capped at 6 total crew members (including the crew leader, which means 5 spots for volunteers). Before these restrictions, work parties with 20 or more slots filled quickly. Cutting our capacity to less than a third has exacerbated a supply and demand problem we were already dealing with.
  • Reduced staff means fewer work parties. COVID-19 also created financial constraints. This year, we were not able to hire the seasonal field staff or fill full-time vacancies that we'd normally rely on for program support. Volunteer crew leaders have stepped up in a major way to help us out this year, but with fewer staff, we still have less capacity to offer as many trips as we typically do.
  • Safety means balancing work party location and number of hikers on trail. The number of new trail users dramatically increased this year. Busier trails also meant more chances of exposure, so to reduce contact (and frequent work interruptions), we ran more mid-week crews and fewer weekend work parties this summer. This narrowed volunteer options for some folks, and created higher demand for the weekend work parties that we were able to offer safely.
  • Covid-19 restrictions highlighted imperfections in our registration process. Typically, our work parties operate on a first-come, first-served basis. When capacity is larger, this is a fairly equitable process, but it is less so when there are only 5 spots available to volunteers.

Photo by Emily Snyder.
 An ACL and volunteer evaluate a tree for removal earlier this year. Opportunities to learn new trail skills like this are one of our priorities as we aim for equity on work party rosters. Photo by Emily Snyder.

Roster Management with COVID-19 Protocols

Given those restrictions, we've had to change our basic approach to managing work party registrations (rosters). At the core of these changes is an effort toward equity; we are trying to balance providing learning opportunities for new volunteers with offering space for those who have dedicated many years to trail work.

What does it mean if a work party is "Limited"?

This feature changes the work party from a first-come, first-served model to an applicant pool. Similar to our "strenuous" BCRTs, applicants are not guaranteed a spot. Instead, everyone is put into a pool of candidates and WTA staff build crews manually using a pre-determined set of criteria for the work party.

Why are some work parties limited and others have waitlists?

Work parties are designated as limited if the work party is expected to fill quickly. This lets WTA staff manually manage the registration process for popular work parties and strike a balance between prioritizing new volunteers, rotating through frequent volunteers, and ensuring enough experienced volunteers are on-site to teach and help complete the work. 

How do you select volunteers from waitlists?

Invitations from waitlists are managed by WTA staff. Prior to COVID-19 restrictions, we invited people off of the waitlist based on the timestamp of their registration. Currently, we are reviewing waitlists based on a pre-determined set of criteria. This includes prioritizing new volunteers as much as we can while ensuring enough experienced volunteers are on-site to accomplish our goals for the day.

How long do I have to say yes to an invitation from a waitlist?

We’ve reduced the length of time volunteers have to make a decision when invited from a waitlist. Instead of two days, you now have 24 hours. This lets us move through waitlists faster, allows us to offer more people the opportunity to volunteer, and reduces the likelihood of spots remaining empty.

What happens if I don't show up?

Last-minute cancellations and no-shows impact small crews more deeply than 20+ person crews. We always miss folks when they don’t show up for a work party, but the impact is felt more heavily on these smaller events. When even a single person “no-shows” for a 6-person event, it's not only disappointing, it can significantly impact that day's project.

If someone doesn’t show up to a work party without canceling first, they will receive an email to let them know that they were missed! The message they receive also provides context as to why advance notice is appreciated.

How soon should I let you know if I can't make it?

As soon as possible. We are unable to fill cancellations within 24 hours of a work party's start, so as soon as you know you can't make it, please cancel your registration or send us an email at volunteer@wta.org.

Why are there two work parties scheduled for the same day in the same place?

Some land managers have allowed us to run two crews simultaneously if the job site and projects are large enough to accommodate adequate separation of the crews. This accommodation allows us to increase the amount of volunteer spots available without additional logistics and planning!

Sometimes this means we list one work party with a larger capacity that will be split up into two crews later.

Other ways to get involved

While we're operating at reduced in-person capacity, we aren’t going to be able to provide as many work parties as we wish we could. But we’re trying our best to build a better system and create new ways to connect.

  • We’re working on updating our system so it better accommodates smaller crews and larger waitlists.
  • We’re building out online opportunities like trainings, Introduction to Trailwork presentations and social activities (like Volunteer Appreciation Week!) to help you stay in touch with other volunteers and bring new folks into the community.  

Again, thank you for your patience, flexibility, and resilience! If you have any questions or concerns, please send us an email at volunteer@wta.org.