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Photo by David Roberts.

Caring for Trails: 3 Advocates Offer Inspiration for How to Make a Difference

Trails need advocates if they will withstand the test of time. What does it take to build a better future for our trail systems, and how do you become an advocate? We sat down with three people who consider themselves advocates, and this is what we heard. By Cassidy Giampetro

Trails need champions. But how do you advocate for the trails you love? It starts with a passion for our wild spaces. And since you're reading this, you've already taken your first step!

But how do you harness that passion into advocacy? What does it take to build a better future for our trail system? We talked to three people who consider themselves advocates and this is what we heard.

Meet Eva — the regional expert

A trail advocate wearing hiking gear smiles at the camera from a wilderness setting.
Eva uses her local knowledge to be a regional expert.

Eva is a retired teacher from Cle Elum. Her advocacy started in the disability world, as the mother of a son with special needs. Her experience in advocacy soon meshed with her love for the outdoors. 

Eva started volunteering with local organizations and quickly noticed a gap: While many other trail users were showing up to meetings, conversations and events that impacted trails, hikers lacked representation. She jumped on the opportunity to become an ambassador with Washington Trails Association and, through her involvement with WTA, has joined a collaborative for recreation in Central Washington that allows her to show up as a voice for local hikers. She leads a subcommittee that explores ways to inform people of alternative trail options, identifies trailheads where signage can be improved and is even working to develop a volunteer ambassador program in the area. Eva participates in monthly meetings to discuss recreation with important decision-makers in her area, sharing the needs and concerns of hikers in her local community with groups that can solve these issues.

For people interested in advocacy, Eva says that “you can advocate for trails and public lands by making comments on projects, sending letters to your legislators, providing hiker input at public meetings and writing trail reports. You may already be an advocate.” 

She recommends starting with opportunities at WTA, like becoming an ambassador, and seeing where you can plug in to the places you’re passionate about.

Meet Denis — the outdoor recreation professional

An advocate wearing a rainbow-sleeved insulated jacket looks stoically with a city skyline behind them.
Denis looks for opportunities in his daily work to make space for and live his values.

Denis is the environmental coordinator and retail floor lead for Patagonia Seattle, where he’s grown the environmental program over the past 5 years. He works closely with Patagonia leadership to ensure equitable representation for the LGBTQ+ community in the company. Denis enjoys skiing, birding and hiking in the Pacific Northwest.

Denis sees advocacy as standing up for what you believe in and not being scared to do so. His goal as an advocate is to walk away feeling empowered by an experience and to take that energy back to his team and community in hopes that they will be inspired to get involved. And he practices this by supporting local environmental and social issues speaking at hearings, educating his colleagues, and providing a safe place where they can freely discuss issues and hear all perspectives.

“In order for things to change, and for us to make progress, everyone needs to get involved and feel welcome to participate,” he said.

Denis has some advice for new advocates.

“Sometimes it’s hard to figure out where to start, and it can be overwhelming at first,” Denis said. “Talk with other advocates and ask them how to get involved. Follow organizations on social media, as they usually post about upcoming events and have a call to action. No contribution is too small; any time you can spare will be appreciated by the group you’re supporting. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You don’t have to be an expert on the issue to be an advocate, but you do need to be informed and willing to learn, so be open to hearing diverse perspectives.”

Meet Mitzi — the information gatherer

An advocate wearing a cowboy hat takes a selfie before a rushing river.
Mitzi tracks information relevant to her community and shares it broadly so more people can participate and be informed.

Mitzi is the former legislative chair for the Back Country Horsemen of Washington and lives in the southern part of the Olympic Peninsula. She loves the outdoors, which inspired her to get involved in advocacy and stewardship.

To Mitzi, advocacy means educating the trail-user community on how to recreate responsibly. Advocacy also means collaborating with governments and organizations to keep trails maintained and accessible for all users and keeping her own community informed. Mitzi keeps an eye out for decisions that will impact the equestrian community and shares them with people who may want to speak up. Her advocacy helps others — and trails — through educating and connecting people with ways to get involved.

“I get excited when people understand the impact they can have through volunteering. Everyone makes a difference,” she said.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.