Washington Trails Association
Trails for everyone, forever
How WTA's crowd-sourced information makes us all better hikers. By Anna Roth
Wikipedia works on the wisdom of crowds. The enormous online encyclopedia relies on a massive group of volunteer writers and editors to keep its collection of free-to-access articles current and accurate. Similar to Wikipedia, wta.org works on the power of many people working together. Since our inception more than 50 years ago, we have been tapping into the knowledge of the hiking community to share current trail information. What started as a small print newsletter with a handful of readers a month has grown into an online powerhouse that receives more than 13 million views per month.
It would be impossible for just one person to keep all of Washington’s hiking information current. There are 4,000 hikes published on wta.org and many more trails across Washington waiting to be added. New hikes are researched and written up by dozens of generous volunteer authors, then reviewed and edited by just two WTA staffers. Those volunteers generously help hikers get the information they need for safe, fun hikes, including turn-by-turn driving (and hiking!) directions.
But those dozens of volunteer writers also have lives of their own, which means they can’t be checking trail conditions 24/7. But you know who can do that? The hiking community in Washington.
Thousands of people — hikers just like you — are on trails and in parks all over Washington any given day. And some of those thousands write trip reports. Trip reports are a recount of trail conditions, shared by folks who have visited the trail recently. Just like the Wikipedia editors who keep the world’s largest free encyclopedia current, trip reporters keep Washington’s largest comprehensive trail database current. And just like the wiki editors, trip reporters don’t have to have training or any special writing skills. They’re hikers from all backgrounds of life who write trip reports for many different reasons.
Some record their adventures for themselves, while some write beta for others to use. Despite receiving dozens of trip reports a day, not every trail has a current report! Conditions change so much and so quickly in Washington that trip reports are always helpful, but that’s particularly true if a trail hasn’t had a report in a couple weeks. In winter or spring, a report just a few days old could have out-of-date conditions. That’s because as snow melts and storms bring debris and sometimes even trees across trails or roads, access to trails can change day to day.
Trip reports don’t just help hikers understand access. A hiker may be the very first person to encounter a tree blocking the road to the trailhead or a trail wash-out. If that person writes a trip report, it can help the land manager discover — and then address — the damage, as well as prompt WTA staff to research and share a new way to access the area that has been affected.
Trip reports are relevant especially if you’re on those less-often-visited trails. Maybe you spotted a particularly notable animal deep in the backcountry or saw a bridge was failing in your local park. That knowledge is valuable and worth sharing.
Together, we know a lot. So this year, share your trail knowledge in a trip report and help us all be better hikers.