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Meet the New Backcountry Experts on WTA's Volunteer Crews

Posted by Anna Roth at Apr 01, 2014 09:25 AM |

This summer, WTA is adding some true trail experts to our volunteer vacation crews. We'll have specially trained animals helping us with logouts, brushing, and even in-camp duties like KP!

This summer, WTA is adding some true trail experts to our backcountry volunteer crews. We'll have specially trained animals helping us with logouts, brushing, and even in-camp duties like kitchen patrol! Because they're experts, they'll get orange hard hats, but don't worry, you don't have to take orders from them.

Tree Felling Professionals

Beavers Creative Commons
Our expert tree-felling crew will make puncheon construction faster and more efficient! Photo courtesy Creative Commons.

Volunteer Vacations like those on the Olympic Peninsula and other locations where we're building bridges and puncheons will get a boost from specially drafted teams of beavers.

We'll be sending each beaver crew out three days in advance of the trip. They'll fell trees WTA scouts have previously selected and marked, so that when our human crews get out there, the trees will be ready for peeling and placing!

Each of our teams works seamlessly together, as they have prior building experience working on their own dams and lodges.

Specialized Brushing Crew

Deer Summer Kosicek
Our brushing crews will allow BCRTs to access deep backcountry locations even faster this summer. Photo by Summer Koscizek

The voracious appetite of Washington's white-tailed deer made them the perfect candidate when we were looking for an advance guard of volunteers to brush trail.

Frequently, crews on backcountry response teams (BCRTs) are slowed down by overgrown trails, so this year each backcountry trip will be led by a team of three deer as they make their way to the destination. They'll also clear the camp area of ground cover and low-hanging boughs.

Elk will also join the teams in particularly brushy areas.

Measure twice, cut once

Banana Slug Justin Engelman
The slime from our new measurement crew is distinguishable in rain or shine! Photo by Justin Engelman.

In our effort to comply with Leave no Trace, we're doing away with marking utensils! No more pencils or pens that may or may not work depending on weather conditions, and no more flagging that could blow away in high winds.

WTA is now relying on the natural slime from banana slugs to mark our measurements for everything from lap joints to notching -- even the beaver crews rely on the new measurement methods to precisely fell the trees we'll use for on-trail structures.

We've already dispatched our crews for the season, as time is a concern for them.

Yoga Instructor/Life Coach

Yoga Squirrel Kathy Bogaards
Stretching before a day of trailwork is of the utmost importance! Photo by Kathy Bogaards.

Stiff muscles from a day (or five) of sleeping on the ground can be hard to wake up to. Fortunately, this season, each backcountry trip will have a certified yoga instructor on deck to wake you up right. Practice a sun salutation to limber up, then get down to the business of breakfast.

On trail, your yogi transforms into a positivity professional, who will be a source of encouragement if your energy flags toward the end of the day. And of course, they're always ready with a pick-me-up from our signature WTA chocolate box.

Precision Timekeeper

Pika Douglas Diekema
Our natural alarm clock rises with the sun to ensure you start the workday on time. Photo by Douglas Diekema.

Batteries in the backcountry are counterintuitive. They're heavy, and don't you normally head into the woods to escape all the technology that surrounds you? But wake-up time can come early on a backcountry trip, so how can you be sure not to miss breakfast without your alarm clock?

New this season, each backcountry location will have a hired pika, who we've trained to squeak with increasing frequency and urgency until everyone is up and stretching with the yoga instructor.

Particularly stubborn sleepers will be personally visited by these little guys, and cute as they may be, that squeak is LOUD up close. Best to rise and shine as soon as you hear his get going.

Security Detail

Bear Brad Howard
You can rest easy knowing that our security bears are protecting camp. Photo by Brad Howard.

With raccoons and other critters getting curious about poorly stored food from other backcountry visitors, we decided to beat a potential problem to the punch. With specially trained bears, we've got a handle on late-night raids from hungry animals.

We've trained these bears to patrol the camp perimeter, keeping raccoons and other little critters out of our food stores. In return, they get access to snacks! Don't worry about mass destruction, these bears have been trained to open the panniers delicately, and only take snacks marked for them.

Our guards are relatively solitary — they'll be patrolling the woods and keeping camp safe, but you probably won't see them around camp much.

Potty Patrol

Marmot Claire Giordano
This little guy is passionate about his job -- stay out of his way when he's working! Photo by Claire Giordano.

It may surprise you that marmots have a taste for waste. They're remarkably good at keeping the area around the toilet trench clean, a quality often overlooked because of their whistles and antics in alpine meadows.

But their surprising knack for cleanup hasn't gone unnoticed at WTA. We've posted a clean-up crew of marmots at each Volunteer Vacation latrine site for the 2014 season.

This is one more way that WTA is helping hikers and volunteers comply with Leave No Trace in the backcountry.