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Learning Skills, Building Strength on All-Girls Work Parties

Posted by Jessi Loerch at Apr 04, 2018 12:03 PM |

For 10 years, WTA's all-girl trips have empowered young women on trail.

“WTA is where I fell in love with the mountains and I fell in love with volunteering,” said Sierra (Taylor) Davila.

Sierra was one of eight girls on WTA’s first all-girls youth vacation, 10 years ago. We checked back with some of those volunteers from that first trip. Their memories and stories affirm the power volunteering has to change lives. A decade later, all-girls youth trips continue to offer young women a welcoming space to learn new skills and test their strengths.

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Posing alongside the Wallace Falls trip in 2008. Photo by Krista Dooley.

The trip was to Wallace Falls State Park. The girls, along with a crew leader and an assistant crew leader, spent the week building a crib wall on the Wallace Falls Trail, near Middle Falls. They also worked on revegetation to rehabilitate the area.

Sierra came the farthest for the trip. She lived in New Jersey, but her mother had a friend in Washington who told her about the trip. Sierra didn’t quite know what to expect.

“I wasn’t really into volunteering when I first started, but now I’m a volunteering guru,” she said.

She appreciated that the trip was all girls; she says it made it more comfortable, especially for her first trail work experience. Sierra was a gymnast, so she was used to physical exertion. But gymnastics is more of an individual sport, and trail work taught her new skills.

“I learned teamwork and I learned the power of giving selflessly and the power of giving something without getting anything in return,” she said.

Sierra joined WTA on three youth volunteer vacations over the course of her teen years. Photo courtesy Sierra Davila.

She ended up coming back for two more trips, one of which was all girls and one of which was mixed gender. Looking back now, she says WTA really shaped her life. After high school, she joined an AmeriCorps NCCC crew. She worked on trails in many different areas, including Colorado, Massachusetts and Maine. In Maine, she did survey work along the trail.

“That was the most challenging work,” she said. “I was very happy that WTA had prepared me for it.”

Sierra now lives in Virginia. She has continued to pursue her love of gymnastics as a coach. She also volunteers with Shine Girl, which works to empower girls. She’s thankful to WTA for giving her a love of the woods and an appreciation of adventure. She will soon be moving on to a new adventure—her husband, David, is in the Navy and has been stationed in Cuba.

A love for building things

Sally Miller was another volunteer on that trip. She remembers the fun of learning how to build a trail structure and problem solving to make it work.

“It was a lot of fun to have big heavy logs no one could carry,” she said. “It’s quite a good team building activity to carry huge logs—getting so many brains and hands to work together.”

Like Sierra, Sally also came back for more volunteer trips. Part of her desire to come back was the connection she formed with Krista Dooley, the crew leader, and Carolyn Wharton, the assistant crew leader.

Sally kept in touch with them, especially Krista, and Krista even encouraged Sally to write a story for WTA herself, which was published in Washington Trails magazine in 2009.

“Not only was I learning trail work skills, I got a chance to work on my communication skills,” she said. “Krista gave us a great opportunity to practice other skills.”

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The teens camped out along the beautiful Wallace Lake for the week. Photo by Sally Miller.

As she kept coming back for volunteer vacations, Sally also found inspiration for her future career. She recently finished her master’s in mechanical engineering at MIT.

“I always enjoyed hands-on projects,” she said. “I really loved building puncheons. It’s a big engineering challenge. I loved that challenge and I think that really tied in well with what I ended up doing. It gave me good hands-on experience and really reinforced how much I love making things.”

For her master’s project, Sally helped create a way for surgeons to perform a sterile surgery in low-resource areas such as military zones or areas struck by natural disasters. Also while working on her master’s, she found time to get outdoors. She’s been a member of the MIT outing club for six years. She even came back to her WTA roots by organizing trail work in the White Mountains.

“Since then, the club has done more trail work, which I think is really important,” she said. “We really take advantage of the trails and it’s nice to be able to give back.”

A path to the outdoors

Arian (Ensley) Weber was invited on the trip by Sally. The two had been friends since kindergarten. And while Sally’s family spent a lot of time outdoors, Arian’s family didn’t. The volunteer trip gave Arian one of her first experiences being outdoors.

“The crew leaders were just great,” she said. “I had a blast doing it and came back for many years. … It made me feel a sense of involvement and connection to the outdoors that I really hadn’t had before.”

Arian (right) was introduced to trail work by her longtime friend Sally (left). Photo courtesy Arian Weber.

The trips let her see her home state in a new light—often giving her a whole week to really get to know the beautiful places across the state.

“The experience at WTA led me to wanting to work with nature and being more interested in biology and ecology,” she said.

After high school, Arian studied biology and ecology at The Evergreen State College. She worked for the Forest Service in the Olympics as a biology intern studying mountain goats. She also worked as a recreation technician, monitoring campsites and trailheads.

After living in Alaska, Arian and her husband moved to La Conner. Arian is expecting their first child soon. In the meantime, she’s exploring nearby trails once or twice a week. And she’s continuing to draw on the things she learned from WTA, like respecting and appreciating our wild spaces and feeling confident hiking and camping—a confidence she wouldn’t have gained otherwise.

“I’m immensely thankful for the experience WTA provided,” she said. “I can’t thank WTA enough for everything.”