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To Prevent Lost Trails, Training Tomorrow's Backcountry Stewards

Trails get lost in a variety of ways and volunteers have the skills to find them. But how does a person actually learn to care for our treasured places?

A crew leader shows a volunteer the basics of handling a crosscut saw on the Klickitat Trail. Photo by Gail Niebel.

Trails get lost in all kinds of ways. Maybe a storm or avalanche knocks down hundreds of trees. Maybe thick brush and brambles take over the surface of the trail. Maybe spring runoff knocks a critical bridge out. Fire, flood or lack of funding -- there are dozens more ways trails get lost to hikers. And each one requires a different set of skills to fix or find the trail again.

But how does someone actually learn the skills to care for our treasured places?

A long tradition in the art of trail work

In addition to our hundreds of volunteer day work parties, Washington Trails Association leads dozens of volunteer trail maintenance trips into our state's backcountry each year. Many of these 3-8 day trips, Backcountry Response Teams and Volunteer Vacations, care for hard-to-reach trails in danger of being lost.

Years of trail work have created a network of incredibly knowledgeable volunteers and crew leaders. But that experience could be lost if new volunteers don't learn from expert volunteers now.

Learning the art of crosscut saw sharpening
A WTA's 2-day Crew Leader College is just one way WTA works to pass down knowledge and skills. Here, Bud Sillman teaches the labor-intensive art of a cross-cut saw. Photo by Loren Drummond

Preventing lost trails ... and lost skills

"We welcome volunteers of all experience levels, but we rely on our crew leaders and assistant crew leaders to be the experts on how to care for trails that are most in need. We need the next generation of stewards to join us in the backcountry, so our leads can pass on that knowledge," says Rebecca Lavigne, trail program director at WTA.

Lavigne said it is critical new volunteers get this experience while today's experts can still mentor them.

"We have a lot of new volunteers who are somewhat experienced backpackers come on our trips, but it's a completely different experience to hike in and do trail work all on the same trip."

It's hard work, but incredibly rewarding.

"There were so many things I learned about myself and others while volunteering with WTA. I would recommend the experience to anyone willing to get their hands dirty," says youth volunteer Elizabeth Hopmann. "By far, the volunteers building trails are the most diverse, yet connected, group I have been around."

Volunteers will have plenty of opportunities to work on lost or endangered trails this year. Registration opened last month for backcountry trips, including for trails that are most in need.

This season's trips that will work on lost trails include:


Many of the incredible trips above, along with other trails in need still have open spaces and need your help. Spend a few days in the backcountry, and learn some of the skills that will help save tomorrow's trails.

Take two minutes to be a steward right now

You can be a steward for trails right now without even putting your boots on.

Will you lend your voice to trails today?

Sign the pledge to take four easy steps to speak for trails in 2016. We'll keep you updated on opportunities to contact decision makers and other ways you can support the future of Washington's trails.

from six ridge pass looking east
Saving lost trails and passing on essential skills will help protect access to views like this one, from Six Ridge Pass. Photo by rnnrgrl

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