Trails for everyone, forever
In 2013, WTA welcomed the first cohort of teenagers into our newly established Youth Ambassador Program (YAP). Since then, more than 100 youth ambassadors have completed the program. Along the way, they’ve organized work parties, started hiking clubs, lobbied for public lands in Olympia, written for the magazine, and spoken at trails conferences. It should come as no surprise that many of the former youth ambassadors have gone on to do even bigger and better things. We caught up with a few alumni and asked them to fill us in on their time since the YAP.
Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Youth Ambassador cohort: 2013-2014
How did you become involved with WTA? I first got involved with a weeklong youth volunteer vacation in the North Cascades. It was my first introduction to trail work and I definitely got hooked.
Memorable WTA moment: The sense of community that developed in our group even just over the course of a week on that first WTA volunteer vacation has definitely stuck with me, as well as the sense of shared accomplishment in completing the bridge we were constructing.
What have you been up to? Since being a youth ambassador, I've spent a couple seasons serving on and leading crews with the Student Conservation Association and Southeast Conservation Corps, done some romping around in the woods including thru-hiking the PCT last year, some environmental education work, grew a mustache, and am currently finishing up a degree in Environmental Science at Colorado College.
Location: Seattle, Washington
Youth Ambassador cohort: 2014-2015
How did you become involved with WTA? My environmental science course performed trail work as a class back in 2012 and I have been hooked into this stellar community and work ever since. Now I frontload the advocacy work, tabling at events on behalf of WTA and spreading the word through membership sales.
Memorable WTA moment: On weeklong trail trips, I became known for using the hour-long lunch break to nap in the brambles for 50 minutes, and scarfing down chips and a sandwich with six minutes to spare. Fuel the machine!
What have you been up to? Hiking in Albania and rock climbing in Greece pre-covid was an absolute highlight in the last year. Now I am settled in on trail running; I have found that social distancing is not an issue when running around Mount St. Helens!
Location: Seattle, Washington
Youth Ambassador cohort: 2015-2016
How did you become involved with WTA? I got involved with WTA on a week-long volunteer vacation. I'd never really heard of trailwork before and had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I ended up loving both the physical work and the community that trip connected me to. After that trip I joined the Youth Ambassador Program, which was simultaneously a launchpad for a career in environmental work and a group of people who would become close friends.
Memorable WTA moment: Before volunteering with WTA, I had no idea how big of a rock I could move, but we moved a lot of big rocks on my first trip with WTA. I learned just what my size limit was for the rocks I could scoot along, pick up, or roll. One rock I needed to reposition was definitely too big for me. I remember looking around and calling over a couple of friends from my crew. Together (and not without some struggling), we were able to maneuver the rock into place, and it was a small moment that showed me just how much more we can move with a few friends to help us. It's a lesson that applies to big rocks as well as more complex issues in the world.
What have you been up to? I'm starting my third year at the University of Washington studying Environmental Science and Terrestrial Resource Management with a focus in restoration ecology. Ecology has captured my imagination ever since I was a kid, and thanks to WTA's references and recommendations I've been able to work in my field for the last three summers with the Forest Service. This summer I was lucky enough to work as a Wildlife Technician monitoring northern goshawks and surveying lynx habitat, getting paid to hike, watch birds, and look at plants. It doesn't get much better than that!
Location: Mazama, WA
Youth Ambassador cohort: 2017-2018
How did you become involved with WTA? I became involved with WTA in high school when I was looking for different ways to earn volunteer hours. After my first work party, I was hooked and continued on volunteering on a monthly basis throughout the rest of my time in high school and beyond.
Memorable WTA moment: One moment I remember fondly was on my youth volunteer vacation in the Pasayten Wilderness. Our project was to assist in building two turnpikes and I'll never forget crosscutting for the first time or watching as our Forest Service partner felled a tree for our turnpikes.
What have you been up to? After my youth volunteer vacation in the Pasayten Wilderness, I was incredibly inspired to pursue trail work as a job. I stayed in touch with our Forest Service partner from that project and actually ended up getting a job on the Methow Valley Ranger District as a Forestry Technician (Trail Crew) two years later. I have spent the last two summers crosscutting, digging, and hiking all over the Pasayten and the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wildernesses, having the time of my life. I wouldn't be here without WTA!
Location: Mercer Island, Washington
Youth Ambassador cohort: 2019-2020
How did you become involved with WTA? I first got involved with WTA three years ago when my Dad, who always read the magazine, suggested that I volunteer. I signed up for a day trip and was quickly hooked by the friendly atmosphere and tangible difference I could make. My experience snowballed from there.
Memorable WTA moment: Just about my favorite trip with WTA was my youth volunteer vacation to Mount St. Helens last summer. Working with other volunteers my age in the shadow of one of Washington’s most famous mountains was an amazing time. We even hiked down to Spirit Lake, which was less than a mile from our work site, to check out the logs that still cover the lake’s surface, 40 years after the Mount St. Helens eruption.
What have you been up to? Lately, as the most recent Youth Ambassador program year was limited by COVID-19, I’ve been developing a mobile app called Urban Hikes: Seattle. In the city, it’s easy to believe that the only way to get outdoors and go hiking is by dedicating a day off to trek into the mountains. There are actually a TON of outdoor spaces right in the Seattle area, and Urban Hikes helps you explore the urban wilderness that’s right in your backyard. You can use it to track your progress on trails, find the next walkable park right next to your house, or, if you’re into technology, use it as a Pokémon Go-style game that rewards you for finding certain objectives in every park. To find out more information check out urbanhikes.org!