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Honoring a Volunteer for Decades of Dedication to Trails

Posted by Laura Norsen at Apr 17, 2023 10:28 PM |

WTA thanks Pat Limberg for years of volunteering, both on and off trail, with our white hat award. By Laura Norsen

Anyone who has volunteered on trail with WTA will probably be familiar with the three hard hat colors: the standard-issue green hat worn by most volunteers, the orange hat worn by assistant crew leaders and the blue hat worn by crew leaders. There is one color that is likely less familiar, one that is very special both to WTA and to those exceptional individuals who have received it: the white hat.

The white hat is awarded to those whose extraordinary service, commitment and leadership over the course of many years have had a transformational impact on WTA.

In her many years of volunteering with WTA, Pat Limberg has earned her green, orange and blue hats and she is now the 10th recipient of a very well-deserved white hat.

Pat Limberg and other volunteers use saws to clear trails in the backcountry.
Pat Limberg (in orange hat) works to clear a log using a crosscut saw on a backcountry volunteer trip.

Pat first learned of WTA through a pamphlet tacked to a bulletin board at the former REI storefront on Capitol Hill. It seemed like a good way to learn more about hiking, so she called the phone number and signed up for her first trail work party at Skookum Flats. Over lunch, the two women leading the work party mentioned that later in the summer there would be a weeklong trip. Pat had backpacked a few times before, mostly single-night trips, and had been wanting to learn how to stay out longer, so going out with a WTA group seemed like a perfect opportunity. That first volunteer vacation is one of her fondest memories.

“It was a great group of people and an incredible learning experience,” Pat said.

The crew spent their days working hard and their nights bonding around the campfire.

“We laughed so much,” she said.

Pat enjoys every opportunity to volunteer with WTA but particularly loves volunteer vacations, as they allow her to get away, disconnect and form strong friendships with other volunteers.

Hikers stand in a mountain setting. They have their hands raised, pointing towards a peak in the background.
Enjoying backcountry views with WTA staff!

Having volunteered with WTA for 27 years, Pat has witnessed many changes and improvements first-hand. In her early days as a volunteer, information about work parties was primarily shared through word of mouth and signing up for a work party involved calling the WTA office. These days, the process is as simple as checking the online schedule and registering through the website. When Pat started volunteering in 1996, WTA’s trail maintenance program was in its infancy and trail work only happened in the summer. But by 1997, it began to expand to other seasons, allowing for many more volunteer opportunities and year-round trail work.

Witnessing the expertise of both staff and volunteers grow exponentially over time, and seeing the development of training for assistant crew leaders (orange hats), has been an inspiration for Pat. People will sometimes ask her, “How did you become an orange hat?” and with mischief in her voice, she’ll reply, “I showed up twice.” 

As much as Pat enjoys volunteering on trail, she also appreciates that WTA gives her the opportunity to contribute in a variety of other ways. Pat has volunteered with WTA in three different office locations, more than most staff have seen. Before she retired, she would occasionally walk from her workplace in downtown Seattle to participate in WTA mailing parties, joining several volunteers and WTA staff to stuff thousands of envelopes for fundraising appeals. After retiring, that volunteering evolved into coming into the office regularly to assist both the development and trails teams in a variety of ways. These days, most of her time in the office is spent stuffing envelopes to mail out donation acknowledgement letters.

Two volunteers pose next to a section of trail they've completed.
It's important to take a moment to appreciate your hard work.

In the early days of the trails program, she also volunteered her time to work out of various basements and garages, assisting with packing food and supplies for volunteer vacations. Now that WTA has a packing facility in North Bend, volunteering to support the trips she loves is easier than ever. Most recently, Pat has joined the ambassador program and represents WTA at various events throughout the year. 

Seeing the organization grow from only a couple hundred volunteers to over 3,000 while holding on to the fun and welcoming character that originally drew her in has kept Pat coming back year after year. She also finds it particularly satisfying to see how much a group of volunteers can accomplish in a day of trail work. Going back years later and revisiting trails that she’s worked on is also incredibly rewarding — especially returning to trails she spent many days working on, such as the lower sections of trail at Rattlesnake Ledge. Hiking those trails now, she’ll remember putting in a specific structure and the people she worked with on that day.

“WTA seems to draw in the absolute best people,” she said.

When asked what advice she would give to new volunteers, Pat says with a laugh, “You need to work at your own pace, because we don’t increase your pay.”

Anyone can do trail work, and seeing both children as young as 10 and volunteers in their 90s working on trail is an inspiration. Pat demonstrates that anyone can find their niche in volunteering with WTA, whether that’s on trail, in a packing facility, as an ambassador or by offering up their unique skills and making their own unique opportunity.

Two volunteers pose on a recently cut log on trail.
Crosscuts are no problem for Pat and other volunteers.

With all the time Pat spends volunteering with WTA, she often hears stories and appreciation for the work that WTA does from friends and family discovering hiking for the first time. She’s watched with enthusiasm as WTA has worked to bring trails to everyone. 

“If you get people out there, they’ll fall in love with trails and take care of them,” she said.

If you’ve been considering volunteering with WTA, she’d certainly recommend that you give it a try — you’ll help trails, but you’ll also likely make new friends and learn to appreciate the outdoors in a whole new way. 

“WTA has introduced me to a world of activity that I never knew existed, even as a hiker, namely trail maintenance and building,” Pat said. “I have to admit I am sort of old school but I love spending the day doing annual maintenance and knowing it will likely be unnoticed but have a much-appreciated impact on other hikers when they don’t get soaking wet by overgrown trails or try to find a route around tree roots and muck. It has introduced me to some amazing people whose dedication and love of our trails and lands I will always appreciate.”

White hat past recipients

  • Louise Marshall: Founder of Washington Trails Association, author, advocate and long-time editor of Signpost Magazine.
  • Ira Spring: Unparalleled advocate for trails and for connecting youth with the outdoors, photographer, author and WTA’s original primary supporter.
  • Susan Ball: Unwavering supporter of WTA’s trail maintenance program and steward of the Greg Ball Trail Fund.
  • Chris Bell: Key leader of WTA’s trail maintenance program during a time of great transition.
  • Bill Sunderland: Innovative founder and creator of WTA’s website, trip report database and volunteer sign-up system.
  • Elizabeth Lunney: WTA’s longest-serving executive director whose vision shaped the WTA we know today.
  • Craig McKibben: Founding supporter of WTA’s youth program and Impact Fund, long-time board member and interim executive director.
  • Pete Dewell: Board member and long-time trailwork leader who has shown an extraordinary dedication to serving the WTA community.
  • Gary Paull: Retired wilderness and trails coordinator for the Darrington Ranger District, honored for his long term and impressive work in helping to transform WTA.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.