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Then and Now: WTA's Youth Program

Posted by Erika Haugen-Goodman at Nov 23, 2016 01:05 PM |

From equipping teachers with the knowledge and gear to take their students outdoors to inspiring the next generation of trail stewards, WTA's youth program is working to get young hikers on trails and connected with their communities.

The youth programs at WTA are joined by a common goal: to inspire the next generation of hikers and trail stewards. From volunteering opportunities to leadership training and gear lending, these programs help connect kids and teens with the outdoors, their communities, and give them the resources to have successful outings. Since 2005, youth opportunities have grown exponentially, and they don't show any sign of slowing down.

Youth Group at Cougar Mountain
A youth group gets instructed on proper tool usage. Photo by Andrew Pringle.

Then: getting off the ground

In the youth program's early years, opportunities for kids and teens largely centered around single day work parties and events. Despite limited offerings compared to today, the program had a successful start and provided over 150 volunteer experiences on trail in the first year.

Over the next few years, the youth program would continue to offer opportunities for youth to get involved with volunteering on trail. In 2011 the program took off and saw a huge increase in volunteering experiences for youth, providing a springboard for expanded offerings. As more teens volunteered, they sought other ways to connect with their community and volunteer with WTA outside of trail work, leading to the creation of the Youth Ambassador Program.

YAP Ambassadors
The 2015-16 Ambassador cohort at the November Summit. Photo by Loren Drummond.

Seeing a unique challenge in getting kids outdoors, WTA founded the Outdoor Leadership Training program in 2013 that gives educators the skills and knowledge to take their youth group or students outside on adventures. Through workshops and a gear lending library, WTA ensures trip leaders have all the necessary equipment and know-how to ensure a successful outing with their group. In 2013 the program focused on training a small handful of educators and trip leaders, but would rapidly grow in the following years.

Now: training the next trail stewards

The youth programs at WTA have flourished in the last few years, providing more youth opportunities to engage with WTA and their community than ever before. WTA has also expanded to include more resources for parents, like our Families Go Hiking newsletter and online tips.

Due to popular demand, week-long volunteer opportunities were added to the volunteering arsenal and WTA now supports 20 of these trips annually, as well as a 16-day backcountry trail work backpacking trip. These extended trips allow teens to connect with the land they're working on as well as each other.

The Youth Ambassador Program has also grown tremendously, training 65 ambassadors since its creation who have presented to more than 2800 students at more than 30 schools and community groups. Youth ambassadors have also gone on to create outdoor clubs at their high schools, present at a panel at the 2014 Washington Trails Coalition Conference, organize group work parties with WTA and much more.

The Outdoor Leadership Training program has also seen incredible growth, training more and more educators and group leaders every year. In the last couple years, the program has helped create over 2,500 outdoor experiences for students and youth groups thanks to the gear lending library and workshops.

Krista Dooley leading a hiking workshop for OLT
Krista Dooley leading a hiking workshop for the Outdoor Leadership Training program.

The youth program continues to grow and shows no signs of slowing down. With the aim of creating tomorrow's trail stewards, volunteers and leaders, WTA is dedicated to creating opportunities for youth across Washington going into the future.

Interested in playing a bigger part in the youth program? We're hiring a Youth Trail Programs Manager who will develop and manage programs that engage and involve young people in volunteerism, leadership and public lands stewardship. Get more info on the position.

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