Learn, Lead & Inspire: WTA's New Outdoor Leadership Program
WTA’s new Outdoor Leadership Training Program (OLT) will be oﬀering four resources to adults interested in leading trips on their own: workshops on a variety of trip-leading topics, a free gear-lending library, mini-grants for transportation and trip costs and ongoing community support to foster connections and crowdsource solutions to common problems.
“I hope to combat nature deﬁcit disorder, give kids greater conﬁdence and provide them with a sense of ownership and responsibility. And, I hope to encourage a lifelong hobby.”
“I think it would be a great experience to take my students hiking, but I don’t know where to start.”
“The young people we work with just don’t have the appropriate gear to enjoy the outdoors.”
“Our youth group would love to volunteer with WTA, but we don’t have transportation to get to the trailhead.”
These are just a sample of the comments that Washington Trails Association has heard from community organizations and schools interested in leading outdoor youth trips. This led Krista Dooley, WTA’s youth program manager, to assess the challenges faced by schools and community organizations and to explore ways in which WTA might be able to oﬀ er support. Unsurprisingly, her research found that teachers and youth development professionals face several common barriers when trying to lead outdoor experiences: a lack of training, gear, funding and support.
In response, WTA set out to develop a new program to help get more youth hiking and involved in trail stewardship, particularly those young people with limited access to outdoor experiences. Looking around the country for ideas, an innovative program model was identified to meet this goal. Instead of directly leading youth trips, WTA’s new Outdoor Leadership Training Program (OLT) will be oﬀering four resources to adults interested in leading trips on their own: workshops on a variety of trip-leading topics, a free gear-lending library, mini-grants for transportation and trip costs and ongoing community support to foster connections and crowdsource solutions to common problems.
The goal of OLT is to empower adults who work with youth to use outdoor experiences as a tool for positive youth development. Many teachers and youth leaders lack the training opportunities to learn about leading safe and fun outdoor trips on their own. WTA’s new workshops prepare teachers and youth development professionals with the skills and confidence they need to successfully take their students out hiking on Washington’s trails. By engaging a small army of community-based trip leaders, WTA will leverage a multiplier eﬀect to help thousands of youth experience the outdoors in the coming years. Current workshops focus on day hiking, trip planning and proper gear, but will grow to include camping, backpacking and winter recreation.
Workshop graduates gain access to a free gear-lending library that includes rain gear, fleece jackets, backpacks, water bottles and hiking boots. The gear library is located in a new South Seattle facility and will grow to include camping and backpacking gear. Additionally, workshop graduates are able to apply for mini-grants of up to $250 of funding assistance to help mitigate transportation and trip costs. And to continue supporting youth development professionals and teachers beyond the workshops, WTA has created an online forum to share trip ideas, ask questions, learn about upcoming events and stay connected with other leaders working with youth. These resources will also be available to schools and youth groups who volunteer with WTA but lack access to gear and transportation.
WTA is engaging youth development professionals and teachers who work with 10- to 18-year-olds who have little to no connection to the outdoors. These youth, often from underserved families with limited resources and from diverse socioeconomic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, may not have other opportunities to enjoy our public lands. With this program, personal relationships and sense of belonging are deepened on hikes led by group leaders who know the unique needs of their students. School and community programs benefit by integrating powerful outdoor experiences with programming back in the classroom or community center. Together with WTA, these groups are engaging young people in trail use to inspire the next generation of hikers, outdoor leaders and public land stewards.