Volunteer Spotlight: Clare Paden
How wrestling with one stubborn stump led one volunteer to taking a leadership role in trail work parties around the state.
Last year, 4,700 people volunteered on trails all over the state of Washington. While there's impressive strength in numbers (like donating $3.9 million of labor on 240 trails in 2016) WTA also likes to highlight some of the individuals who make that possible.
Five years ago, Clare Paden came to WTA through the Mountaineers, and after conquering a particularly stubborn stump, she was hooked. Now she's an Assistant Crew Leader who has done work parties all over Washington state.
Clare came to WTA the way quite a few folks in our world do; she needed to complete some volunteer hours.
"I was in the Mountaineers, and in order to graduate from some classes, you have to do volunteer work. I did three work parties with WTA, about one a year. Then, on one project I got assigned to a stump removal project at Denny Creek. I enjoyed that so much that I came back the following week. That day, they actually assigned me to a specific team so I could be with my stump."
Seeing that project through to completion was pivotal. After the stump project, she was hooked. And it wasn't just the good feeling of having done that complicated extraction. It was how the crew leaders let her tackle it that mattered to Clare.
"When I got assigned to that stump removal, I thought the tools were clunky. I didn't really know how to use them, so the crew leader [Ben Mayberry] and the ACL [Micki Kedzierski] let me and my friend finger dig around it for six hours. Letting us do that meant a lot. I look back now and I can't believe they let us do that -- I think Ben even dug with us for a while. But we got to work the way we wanted to and we had a great time."
She enjoyed the work so much that she came back the next week.
"The next time, I saw people using the rock bars and someone taught me how to use them. They do work better. You really work through your gloves digging with your hands."
After several more work parties (this time using tools), Clare got more confident in the work. She wanted to experience more parts of the state, and so she and her friend and fellow volunteer Erin Beckstrom made a challenge for themselves.
"We made a plan to do a work party in every region of Washington state on the WTA website. Unfortunately, Erin's mom got sick so she couldn't complete it, but I was able to do a day work party in every single region last year. It was so fun. You meet so many different people; I recommend it to everyone."
Working statewide, Clare learned what it's like to build trail in the many different landscapes that Washington boasts.
"I went to National Public Lands Day in Spokane, and it was so interesting: There's different tools, different dirt, different projects, different snacks. Every principle I thought I knew about trail work did not apply in Eastern Washnigton. But everyone on the crew was really welcoming and it was so fun to learn how work gets done over there."
Clare's learned more and more about trail work thanks to her enthusiasm and willingness to work hard. After four years of projects, she started to get her own ideas about potential solutions to trail problems that she saw on volunteer crews. She felt more confident in how to fix trails, and knew she could work well with volunteers, so this year in January she became an assistant crew leader.
"I'm pretty social, and I love talking to people. I knew I could be welcoming to new volunteers, and I thought I could be a good ACL in that way."
In fact, for Clare, it's the personal element of volunteering that's the most exciting part of WTA's future.
"I have enjoyed WTA so much. I am really excited about the diversity work that WTA is doing, including more people who can come work on trails. I hope to continue learning how to be a better ACL and welcome more people into the volunteer community."