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Volunteer Crew Leaders Step Up to Help WTA and Each Other

Posted by Washington Trails Association at Mar 09, 2021 01:32 PM |

In addition to WTA’s regular seasonal staff, 27 volunteers stepped up to lead trail work parties this past summer — making space for 2,200 more volunteers to engage in trail work.

By Emily Snyder

A work party is more than trail work. It’s more than safety talks and candy breaks. It’s shoulder-to-shoulder conversations and mountain views. It’s pride in the work done. It’s the trailhead wrap-up with folks chatting long past the time it takes to load the tools into the truck. Our trail crews value the folks they work with, many of whom have become friends. Over the years, WTA volunteers have built more than trails; they’ve built a community. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic changed all of our lives, volunteers started asking, “Will there still be trail work?” 

This past summer, with new safety protocols in place and limited crew sizes, WTA struggled to provide enough opportunities for everyone who wanted to participate in trail work. But WTA volunteers like a challenge and this was no exception. A few enthusiastic assistant crew leaders (ACLs) saw the growing need for people who could run work parties and applied to be volunteer crew. Karen Bean was one of these folks. 

Volunteer Blue Hat Patrick Sullivan snaps a photo on trail with his crew.
Volunteer Crew Leader, Patrick Sullivan, snaps a distanced photo with his crew while gearing up for a day of trail work. Photo by Patrick Sullivan.

“With the small crews and the full waitlists, I knew WTA had the physical resources — tools — but didn’t have the people (to lead work parties). I decided to take my love of leading as an ACL to the next level,” Karen said. “One of the best things that happened when I started running crews was meeting all of the new people signing up for work parties. Like me, they were looking for community and a way to give back. For all of the volunteers, new and old, the work parties were a place to feel almost normal and be outside in our happy place.”

In addition to WTA’s regular seasonal staff this year, 27 volunteers led work parties, while abiding by COVID protocols. They provided leadership for 2,200 volunteers to engage in additional work parties. And these opportunities were not just for adults, but youth as well. After seeing how the virus was disrupting school and athletic/club opportunities and isolating local youth from their friends, Micki Kedzierski stepped up to volunteer as a crew leader for youth and family work parties. 

“Youth and parents have told me of their appreciation for being outdoors together, seeing other people and gaining needed volunteer hours for school requirements,” Micki said. “On trail, they are learning about the ongoing need to preserve our parks and recreation areas and they’re learning trail work skills. It makes their day when hikers come by and express gratitude for the work they did. Several youths and families have mentioned to me that they see this work as a community effort. I think these youth crews are helping people see that we can get through challenging times by working together in any way we can. I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to blue hat with youth and families.”

Thanks to our amazing volunteer crew leaders, we were able to complete more than 26,000 volunteer hours under their leadership. Patrick Sullivan, volunteer crew leader for Puget Sound, noticed the impact that getting outside with others was having on volunteers. 

“The thing that will stick with me most this year is the gratitude and good cheer of the participants to be outside having fun and doing something constructive that doesn’t involve a Zoom meeting,” Patrick said. “For me personally, it will be providing folks with the opportunity to participate in the trails program by being a crew leader. I’ve led many more days than what I set out to. And I would do it again in a heartbeat. As a bonus, leading crews has helped keep me sane in these challenging times.”

Over 4,300 volunteer hours have been donated by crew leaders themselves this year, and that’s not counting the scouting and prep hours that folks often forget to document! WTA is blessed to have an amazing volunteer base that values community as much as they value trails. Our hats are off to our volunteer crew leaders and the value they’ve added to the trails program during this challenging year!

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Support trails as a member WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.