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The Power of Hikers and Trip Reports

Posted by Anna Roth at May 27, 2020 01:13 PM |
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Together, the WTA community has created a deep resource full of knowledge and enthusiasm. | By Anna Roth

Over Memorial Day weekend, we saw a real-time example of the value of trip reports. Many trails have reopened since closing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but because trails have been closed to hikers, our trip reports were two months behind true trail conditions.

So last weekend, hikers found low snow (May is still late winter in the mountains, after all), lots of trees down, and even some damaged roads. Thanks to trip reporters, we have a better idea of what to expect out there, including which trails are easy to physically distance on, information I was gratified to see included in many reports.

Trip reporters, your positivity and flexibility during the recent challenging time has helped keep hikers’ spirits up all across Washington. Thank you.

Trees down over a trail, with a hiker just beyond the trees.
Trees are down across many trails after a rough winter, including at Mount Baldy. Trip reports are vital to helping other hikers, WTA and land managers know what's going on on trails. Photo by mountainmama.

WTA has been Washington’s best source for hiking information for more than 50 years. But before it was a comprehensive online database, it was Signpost, a newsletter self-published by our founder, Louise Marshall.

Nearly half of the newsletter was trip reports — accounts of trail conditions mailed to Louise by hikers. The trip reports were popular and highlighted the value of current, local knowledge to Washington’s hiking community. As WTA grew and the internet began taking off, trip reports moved online, thanks to the help of amazing volunteer Bill Sunderland. Today, WTA’s online Hiking Guide and trip reports are the modern version of what Louise started.

For the past 6 years, I’ve had the honor of maintaining that wellspring of local knowledge, intel and personal stories.

When I started, our online Hiking Guide was already sizable, but we knew there was more to see and hear. We wanted to hear from people who hiked in local parks, on interpretive trails and on paved trails in urban spaces. Plus, we knew there were a lot more trails in Eastern Washington than the guide included.

We needed better geographic representation for Washington’s trails and a broader definition of what counted as a hike. That required more research than one person could do, so I assembled a statewide team of volunteer writers. We updated hikes and added new ones. As new hikes appeared, so did trip reports for them. Then I began to see trip reports for trails not yet on our site. This insight from locals helped me decide where I needed to focus my research.

Community input helped me add more than 500 trails to the Hiking Guide and update hundreds more — giving hikers yearning for somewhere new to explore more places to do so. And it’s not over. I continue to see new hiking suggestions every day.

By hikers, for hikers

Local knowledge has always been what sets WTA apart. Louise Marshall started Signpost because she saw the value of sharing information among hikers, and she used that enthusiasm to start a movement. Her foresight is remarkable and inspiring, and the enthusiasm she tapped into is a force that has fueled WTA’s work ever since.

Today, our hiking information statewide is much improved, and local parks are mixed in with backcountry trips when you search on Trip reports still help hikers choose where to go, but they also inform where we do trail work. And hikers continue to be the foundation of it all; your voice helps others research their next adventure or live vicariously through you.

I love reading trip reports. You inspire me with your creative routes, up-close photos of mushrooms and trail snack suggestions. I’m astounded at how many local parks I've learned about from you. And I’m honored to have a job where I get a front seat to the energy in Washington’s hiking community. You’ve been an incredible force for more than 50 years. I can’t wait to see what your enthusiasm accomplishes next. 

A child sitting on a rock with view of lake and mountain in the background.
Trip reports are a vital part of the WTA community, and we are so grateful to you! Photo by dmkr.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Support trails as a member WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.


thebrink on The Power of Hikers and Trip Reports

I am ever grateful for the information posted in the trip reports. In these times of the Covid-19 pandemic and the spring shoulder season the reports are the most up to date conditions. Many of the other sites that are usually good sources such as Washington State Dept. of Transportation, DNR, and other organizations that provide trail access and trail status can't always keep up with the changing state of roads and trails. Last week a trip report that mentioned that the Mountain Loop Highway had opened afforded me the chance to hike on trails beyond the winter closure. Many thanks to all who contribute.

Posted by:

thebrink on May 31, 2020 03:10 PM

aaronglewis on The Power of Hikers and Trip Reports

WTA's trip reports are amazing and truly the lifeblood of the community here — which makes it all the more baffling that the website and Trailblazer app make it increasingly difficult for hikers to quickly and efficiently submit reports. Trip reports need to be fast and easy to submit from a smartphone, so how is it that the site/app cannot accept .heic files, the default image format for iPhones? Why can the site not downsize imagery that's above 5MB to an acceptable size? Most people likely don't know how to downsize an image or convert a file from .heic to .jpg — user-hostile, confusing UX choices like these keep people from posting a trip report or push them to other platforms, degrading the usefulness of the site for everyone. I know that the site and app are maintained by volunteers, but more attention needs to be paid to how it works — it feels like things are hollowing out.

Posted by:

aaronglewis on Jun 07, 2020 09:54 PM

WolverineWay on The Power of Hikers and Trip Reports

For me, it's actually a symbiotic relationship. I've always taking on a bit of a "scouting" role, but now I have a means to publish my work! Checking the conditions of lost trails has become a bit of a hobby of mine, and reporting their condition on - where I know it may provide feedback that turns into work parties - is all the more motivating!

Posted by:

WolverineWay on Jun 09, 2020 05:55 PM