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The Making of a WTA Volunteer ACL

 by Julian “Pete” Dewell

Guess you want to know why I am doing this? You are entitled to an answer — I hope to increase the effectiveness of ACL volunteers and, hopefully, increase their effectiveness for Washington Trails Association. A number of years ago, when Greg Ball (the individual who founded WTA's trail maintenance program) and John Miller were still alive, I wrote a short article for the WTA magazine outlining my first day as a WTA volunteer. In this article I want to discuss the volunteer WTA assistant crew leaders and crew leaders.

Over the years, I have asked myself: “What does it take to be a good assistant crew leader?” This, I applied to myself and wanted to be sure that I was keeping my commitment to WTA. Hopefully, I will answer my question in this little article.

Pete Dewell by Britt Le.jpgPete Dewell has joined us on trail for more than 1800 days. Photo by Britt Le.

I began my adventure with WTA many years ago. I was still busily involved in my profession and only had time for an occasional work party on the weekends.

After several years of volunteering, Greg Ball asked me if I wanted to be an assistant crew leader. I knew from my green hat days that these were the orange hats, who varied in experience and how they conducted themselves with relationship to the green hats. Some orange hats came out for a work party and did the same thing as the green hats, although more expertly and efficiently. Some orange hats took the green hats under their wings and gave suggestions and advice on how to do things and general advice and encouragement to hopefully make the green hats more knowledgeable and efficient. From my experience, the latter were the exceptions and the former were most often encountered.

Since I was a really newcomer to this work, anything I could learn made it more fun and got me more involved. When I saw orange hats just doing their thing and not really encouraging and educating green hats in doing their work, I wondered about why they were orange hats. Thus, I established in my own mind what it should be to become an effective orange hat.

This has led me to the question: what makes a good orange hat?

From my experience, to be a good orange hat requires that the assistant crew leader give up some of his or her individual desires and needs to do trail work and maintenance, and help assist green hats to become better volunteers and learn more about trail maintenance and trail building.

This is not an easy assignment, as most of us come out with WTA to do trail work, get exercise and gain more experience. So if we must give up some of our personal desires to educate and train green hats, make sure they are doing their work correctly and give them suggestions about how to do it right, this takes away from the time we can do our own thing. But to me, this is necessary.

Assistant crew leaders must intermittently leave their own work and cruise up and down the line, much as the chief crew leader does, seeing what green hats are doing, helping them to do it more correctly, making suggestions, watching for safety violations (tool handling, working too close together, etc), improving green hat skills and communicating with volunteers, so they have fun and want to return and do it again.

Sometimes, this only requires a few suggestions before the green hat understands what is required — get rid of the duff, don’t cover duff with mineral soil, create an outslope so water runs off the trail, etc. On the other hand, some volunteers do not catch on as quickly, and the ACL must return several times before the volunteer understands. This takes time away from the ACL’s own fun, but it is a necessary part of being an ACL.

I remember once when Greg Ball was the crew leader — this also applies to ACLs — he came by and I was working on a turnpike. Greg stopped and we talked about the job and how to make a corner transition.

He then told me what he would do and then said: “What do you think Pete?”

Here was the head guy asking a relatively new green hat what he thought should be done — this made my day and I have never forgotten this. Sometimes the green hat has as good or a better idea of what needs to be done, and the ACL, and crew leader too, must listen, assess the volunteer’s suggestion and, if it is not accepted, explain why that method is not the best or most efficient.

Don’t just blow the suggestion off — it may or may not have merit, but it is something that the green hat believes will solve the problem.

Therefore, some of my suggestions for being a better ACL are as follows:

  • During the beginning of the day, cruise up and down your area of work, observe what volunteers are doing, offer suggestions, listen to input and give advice.
  • Don’t just go to work on your project and assume that green hats will come to you for advice be proactive.
  • Try to make the work fun for the other volunteers, compliment them on their work and encourage them to come back another time.
  • At the end of the day, attempt to compliment all the green hats who worked with you or who were under your supervision and ask them to come back.
  • Put your duties as an ACL ahead of your own wants — you will soon feel that you are getting as much from helping others as you are getting out of your own work.
  • When you see the 'ACLs Needed' icon on Crew Leader Corner, ask yourself — “Can I sign up for that work party, so I can help the overburdened crew leader do his or her job more efficiently?” This is particularly true on weekends, as there is a substantial need for ACLs on weekends, not just on the regular day you have chosen to participate.

So, let’s try and get out, as ACLs, on at least 3 weekends a year — it sure will help the cause!

Pete Dewell by Evonne Ellis.jpgPete and a fellow volunteer taking a break after working on the Heybrook Lookout trail. Photo by Evonne Ellis.