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New Partnerships Strengthen WTA's Volunteer Education

Posted by Anna Roth at May 01, 2016 12:15 PM |

WTA has partnered with the Mount St. Helens Institute and other organizations to improve our impact on trails as well as the community in Southwest Washington.

Last weekend, Layla Farahbakhsh stood in a circle of six volunteers on a cloudy morning in Cascade Locks. She was going over a few key points of tread reconstruction before the crew headed out for some practical work on a nearby trail.

Not far off, other clusters of volunteers listened intently to their instructors, prepping for another day of trail maintenance education. There were classes planned in everything from Introduction to Trail Maintenance to Rock Retaining Walls, on day two of an event known as Trail Skills College.

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Layla(far left) and her crew pauses for a smile before heading into the field. Photo by Anna Roth.

Sharing resources to train volunteers

Hosted each year by Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA), the Columbia Cascades Trail Skills College teaches trail maintenance volunteers everything from the basics to complicated construction projects, as well as First Aid and CPR certification and leadership skills. Volunteers with a wide variety of experience attend, eager to learn more about how to create and maintain a trail system that can withstand the thousands of visitors public lands see each year.

Layla's presence was made possible thanks to a new partnership between Washington Trails Association and Mount St. Helens Institute (MSHI). Layla was hired to support WTA in the field as a crew leader and at events like Trail Skills College, where she can share her expertise with a wide variety of volunteers.

Strong partnerships make it happen

Trail Skills College happens with support from Washington Trails Association, Back Country Horsemen (chapters from both Washington and Oregon), Trailkeepers of Oregon, and the Mount St. Helens Institute.

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Hard hats sported stickers from all the organizations that helped make Trail Skills College a reality. Photo by Anna Roth.

Representatives from all of these organizations led sessions, including WTA's Southwest Regional Manager Ryan Ojerio, assisted by volunteers Pat and Elaine Keavney and Neil Dytham from Portland Parks and Recreation, who led the Intro to Trail Maintenance session. Together, they guided both new and experienced volunteers through the basics of trail maintenance.

Meanwhile, volunteer chief crew leader Pete Dewell helped out Dana Hendricks of PCTA in a class on installing rock steps.

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The rock crew grins after a successful rock placement with the help of some rigging. Photo by Anna Roth.

A good foundation for sustainable trails

Attendees to the Intro to Trail Maintenance session had experience on trails from California to the Midwest. Larry Watercott had prior experience on the Ice Age Trail in Central Wisconsin, but he felt that an intro class would benefit him.

Over lunch, he told me, "I moved here three years ago, and I just wanted to get into the trail maintenance community here and get some more formalized training."

The first lesson he and the other volunteers in the intro to trail maintenance class learned is that there's no one way to do it right. Ojerio explained in his introduction:

"Depending on the terrain you're working in, you might need to improve the tread, or maybe you need to put in a drainage. Every environment needs a different solution. The one constant is erosion -- that's what puts the most stress on trails, but how you address it varies depending on the climate you're working in."

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Ryan's Introduction to Trail Maintenance class had a few jokes in it, as well as plenty of useful information. Photo by Anna Roth.

Pat and Elaine reiterated this, emphasizing the importance of a well-built trail as the best way to ensure that a trail will last. But there's another element that ensures trails will endure -- enthusiastic volunteers who know and love trails. Efforts from knowledgeable volunteers like the ones who spent their weekend with WTA and other organizations at last weekend's Trail Skills College ensure that generations to come will be able to enjoy the trails that make the northwest such a beautiful place to recreate.

Ryan, Pete and some of the other WTA instructors will be reprising their roles for WTA's own volunteer training weekend: Crew Leader College. Every May for more than 20 years, 100+ assistant crew leaders, crew leaders, and land managers from all over Washington congregate in North Bend for another intensive, two-day session of trail maintenance courses known as Crew Leader College.