Where Are They Now: Arlen Bogaards
Arlen Bogaards is our Northwest Regional Manager, but he started his career at WTA as a volunteer.
2018 is WTA's trail maintenance program's 25th anniversary. Originally, the program relied on just a handful of volunteers, but in the intervening years, hikers have turned out in huge number to answer the call; last year, WTA worked with more than 5000 volunteers. That many willing hands needs lots of staff to manage it, and each spring we hire more than 20 seasonal crew leaders to help support our busiest months of trail maintenance.
Whether they stick around for multiple seasons, or spend just one summer with us, the crew leaders who come through WTA's trail maintenance program touch the lives of hundreds of volunteers, and help WTA realize our goal of keeping trails open and accessible to everyone. We caught up with a few former crew leaders in, to see what brought them to our community, and where their lives have taken them since their time at WTA.
Arlen Bogaards is still with us as WTA's Northwest Regional Manager, though he's come a long way from his first time on a work party. Before he was staff, Arlen was a volunteer.
In October of 2004, he joined a work party just to see what they were like. He enjoyed giving back to trails and the feeling of accomplishment he got from finishing a big project, so he came back for a few more, then he tried a volunteer vacation in the summer of 2005. Spending a week doing trail work with other volunteers got him hooked.
"The volunteer vacation thing made me feel like I was part of something so much bigger. Getting to know people over the course of the week and making a difference on trail with them was really rewarding." And the difference was in his own backyard. He notes, "We were working on trails that I hiked on."
Working on those trails inspired a commitment to WTA he couldn't have expected. Though his first work party was in 2006, it didn't take long before he had the opportunity to step up.
"[In 2006], I volunteered on a lot of day trips around Mount Baker. Then the crew leader that season got a job with NOLS [National Outdoor Leadership School] in Alaska and left partway through the summer. WTA needed someone to finish the season so I did it. I really enjoyed the people I was working with."
But it wasn't just the people he liked. The work was rewarding, too.
"Part of what really hooked me was the projects. One of my first [as a crew leader] was a boardwalk at Anderson and Watson lakes. Being a part of building that was really cool; making a tangible thing out of a pile of wood on the side of the trail."
It was an exciting, on-the-fly learning experience.
"It was wild being told, 'This is what you need to build', then suddenly I'm in charge of a bunch of volunteers building this thing. But by the end of the day, we'd done it! And it's still there today; it still looks great."
Go see for yourself; the boardwalk is on the way up to Anderson Lake, just before you drop over the pass. As you hike, the first boardwalk you come to is what that crew built in 2006. They returned later in the year to work on wood steps in the trail.
The next year, he got a call from WTA offering him the job he'd stepped into the year before. The trail maintenance program was still quite small, and the hiring process was a little different than today; we relied on word-of-mouth and our then-small network of people to help staff us seasonally. Arlen remembers the offer came at a good time in his life.
"It was serendipity: I needed a change and the job came around at just the right time. There was no interview process, I didn't submit a resume. I just got offered the gig. That was lucky."
Though Arlen was still fairly new, he made the position his own, working seasonally on Forest Service land until 2008. Then he began talking to staff at Larrabee State Park and WTA began to host work parties there.
"Having a WTA contact who lived in this area made it easier to collaborate. I think land managers were more willing to work with us because I was consistently there. It's harder to make a connection when crew leaders have to drive up from Seattle. So I made some contacts here and WTA started working at Larrabee [state park] two weekends a month."
By 2011, Arlen was working three-quarter time, thanks in part to talking to state park staff and arranging more work parties near Bellingham. Arlen's work in building relationships was a good model for WTA and as we grew, so did our regional capacity. Arlen went full-time as the Northwest Regional manager in 2012.
"The relationship-building made me most successful. When I started hosting regularly occurring work parties and people could count on them happening, I saw a jump in volunteers. I went from three to four people showing up to working on the Rock Trail in 2013. For a lot of those work parties we regularly had 20 people."
These days it's not uncommon for a mid-week work party in the Northwest region to have more than 15 people.
We're still working at Larrabee State Park. The Rock Trail was a big undertaking, and now we've shifted to the Fragrance Lake Trail and several other locations in the park. Having regularly occurring work parties not only allowed us to get more done, it made our partnerships with Washington State Parks stronger.
And we do more than trail work. Arlen helped lay out a reroute for Fragrance Lake, which is currently awaiting approval. We've also expanded where we work. In 2017, we celebrated the beginning of trail work at Lake Whatcom Park, where we joined many of our partners in kicking off what will be 90+ miles of new trails for hikers, bikers and equestrians.
That project was made possible by several years of work by a community committee of land managers, trail organizations and local recreationists, and three years of WTA representing hikers' voices on the committee.
Thanks to Arlen's twelve years of commitment, the Northwest Regional office is thriving. Now supported by a full-time crew leader, a summer seasonal position and two volunteer crew leaders, Arlen can continue the work of stepping up and showing up, helping WTA create an accessible trail system in Bellingham and across the region.
Showing up makes a difference, whether it's for one day of trail work, or as an organization speaking out for access to trails. You can do your part by joining a work party, speaking up for trails and improved hiker access, or even simply writing a trip report after your next hike.