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A WTA Work Party Put a WTA Youth Volunteer on a Path to an Outdoors Career.

Posted by Tiffany Chou at May 02, 2023 01:29 PM |

A WTA work party put a dedicated WTA youth volunteer on a path to a career in the outdoors. By Tiffany Chou

It takes a seed to start growing a passion. WTA gives many people their first exposure to trail maintenance. For some young people, that time working on trail sparks a passion for trail work and pushes them to pursue more personal and professional ways to care for outdoor spaces and the hiking community. Over the course of the year,, we’ll be telling the stories of several young adults who got their start on trail with WTA — and of the transformative moments that inspired them to get further involved as stewards of trails and public lands.

Brandon Martin had never thought about doing trail work. But then his mother signed his sister up for an all-girls WTA work party and she came back with stories of how much work they did and how much fun she had. Brandon signed up for a trail work party himself.

A string of volunteers take in the view on a hillside.
Taking in the view. Photo by WTA staff.

His first work party was a weeklong frontcountry youth volunteer vacation at Independence Ridge in the Mount St. Helens area with his best friend. It was a trip of many firsts for Brandon: tent camping, going to the bathroom outdoors, washing dishes outside — where he learned it’s important to double-rinse to get the soap off — and doing trail work. They spent the week re-benching a trail and attempting to build a culvert (but an obstructing log ended that project). 

Aside from learning a lot about trail work and camping, Brandon also met some people who would become big influences in his life. One of these people was Cole Hanych, the trip’s assistant crew leader. Cole created a very inclusive environment and shared a lot of life stories with Brandon, like the ecology work he was doing, the opportunities he had had, how he found WTA and even how he adventured in his van. 

The work party also included a lot of silliness and fun — Brandon recalls singing in the car ride to the work site, roasting marshmallows over a campfire and arm-wrestling with his fellow crew members.

A volunteer hoes a swath of trail in the woods.
Brandon works on trail with a grub hoe. Photo by Britt Lê.

Brandon found a sense of belonging at this first work party and it sparked a strong passion for trail work. Immediately upon returning from the trip, Brandon signed up for another weeklong youth volunteer vacation on the Olympic Peninsula. It was his first backpacking trip. 

He became a part of WTA’s Youth Ambassador Program. (That program is currently on hiatus.) He gave several presentations to students in the Snoqualmie area about WTA’s mission and work and how to become a part of the WTA community — a huge success as only two of those in the audience had heard of WTA before. He organized and led a work party, which included a few friends, to build a large turnpike at Big Finn Hill Park.

In the fall of 2021, for all the effort and care he put into his trail work, Brandon was awarded WTA’s Above and Beyond award for being an outstanding volunteer.

Three people stand on trail, with the person in the middle wearing a hard hat. They are all smiles.
Brandon (center) got a surprise visit from his previous youth leaders, Kaci Darsow (left) and Cole Hanych during a work party near Franklin Falls. Photo by WTA staff.

For Brandon, these accomplishments were hard to imagine before honing his leadership skills and confidence through WTA programs. As someone with autism, Brandon had self-identified as introverted and asocial. He’s grateful to WTA for providing opportunities for him to build a community, explore his passion for trail work and grow as a leader. 

“I’d like to (highlight) how inclusive WTA is for those who have disabilities or challenges, as a person who has autism and was in their shell,” Brandon said. “WTA helped foster a community that I felt like I didn’t really have before.”

A group of teens in WTA shirts pose for a team photo.
2019 youth ambassadors. Photo by WTA staff.

For any youth interested in working on a WTA youth work party, Brandon has a laundry list of reasons to sign up.

“If you’re looking for a sense of accomplishment, a hands-on experience, getting outdoors, getting to work with a great nonprofit, being independent, making memories — the list goes on and on,” said Brandon.

In the near future, Brandon plans to get his wilderness first aid certification, explore becoming a part of search and rescue and take steps to become a WTA youth work party leader. He’s going to keep participating in trail work parties — he’s on track to complete 50 work parties soon — and wants to eventually pursue a degree in forestry to become a park ranger. 

“WTA has helped me work toward turning my passion into a career,” Brandon said. “My main goal (is) to preserve, protect, educate and inspire, which is what WTA already does.”

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.