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Where Are They Now? Seasonal Crew Leader Margaret Ullman-Hess

Posted by Anna Roth at May 24, 2018 04:26 PM |

Now working for Mountains to Sound Greenway, Margaret Ullman-Hess got her first taste of trail work as a seasonal crew leader with WTA. We asked her what hooked her, and how she took what she learned at WTA into her professional career.

2018 is WTA's trail maintenance program's 25th anniversary. Originally, the program relied on just a handful of volunteers, but in the intervening years, hikers have turned out in huge number to answer the call for volunteers. Last year, WTA worked with more than 5000 volunteers. This many willing hands needs lots of staff to manage it, and each spring we hire more than 20 seasonal crew leaders to help support our busiest months of trail maintenance. 

Whether they stick around for multiple seasons, or spend just one summer with us, the crew leaders who come through WTA's trail maintenance program touch the lives of hundreds of volunteers, and help WTA realize our goal of keeping trails open and accessible to everyone. We caught up with a few former crew leaders, to see what brought them to our community, and where their lives have taken them since their time at WTA. 

Margaret and a fellow crew member on the Skykomish Ranger District during one of her first years of volunteering. Photo from Margaret Ullman-Hess. 

While she was studying environmental studies and sociology at Whitman, Margaret Ullman-Hess was spending her summers crew leading with WTA. She'd gotten hooked on volunteering thanks to an enthusiastic uncle, who encouraged her to try trail work as a way to give back. Then, on one of her first WTA work parties, she got a vote of confidence from one of WTA's crew leaders. 

"My a-ha moment, where I realized I loved trail work and WTA's community, happened the summer after graduating high school. I was working on the Mount Margaret trail, installing some steps with the other volunteers when our crew leader Mike Owens came over and said, "I have a project for you." He had set up another Assistant Crew Leader—a woman—with a crosscut saw, and they wanted me to be on the other end! 

It wasn't just the uniqueness of getting to use a crosscut, but the trust they put in me to do this right. Like he thought, 'We want you to come over and help us get to this goal.' "

After that experience, Margaret was hooked. For three summers, she crew led for WTA on the west side of the state when school let out. The first year, she led 9 youth volunteer vacations, based out of Highway 2 and working near Wallace Falls. Another summer she helped lead volunteer vacations all across the state. Then she returned the summer after she graduated and led day work parties, living in Skykomish and working closely with the Skykomish Ranger District trail crew. 

"That was a really cool experience. It shaped how I viewed trail crews. That summer, Skykomish had an all-women trail crew, and it was a logout year, because the winter storms had blown down lots of trees. There were days where the crew couldn't get their work done without a third person, so I helped the logout crew function." 

Margaret graduated right into the recession. So, after that final summer with WTA, she worked retail for a while before an opportunity opened up at Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust. They were looking for someone to run their volunteer program. Of course, Margaret had experience working with volunteers, but it was WTA and Mountains to Sound Greenway's close partnership that helped Margaret bag the job. 

Margaret and WTA ACL Dana take a break during one of their work parties. Photo courtesy Margaret Ullman-Hess.

"It was a small world: one of my new coworkers, Tor Bell, was a former WTA board member and was the son of one of my formeer bosses at WTA, Chris Bell! I think that personal familiarity with the respective organizations and confidence in each other's work helped them know I would be a good fit at Greenway." 

WTA's work parties are known for three main rules: Safety, Fun, and Getting Work Done. That's been the case since our beginnings, but when Margaret was working as a crew leader, that attitude was unusual in the environmental community. 

"So many other organizations were more like, 'Just get in and get the job done.' Focusing on volunteers' enjoyment made the projects more fun, and meant people were more likely to come back. Having that understanding allowed me to bring it to the Greenway Trust as the volunteer program manager. I added some structure into the program, and made sure that safety and fun were paramount."

Since joining the Greenway Trust, Margaret has done a little bit of everything at the organization. She helped launch their membership program, ran their communications for four years, and most recently is stepping in to lead coalition projects in the Snoqualmie River Valley.

"As I got new roles, I did more program and strategy work. But my 'in' was through the volunteer program, and I used WTA's program as a model." 

She's been part of Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust for 10 years, and appreciates that the two organizations continue to be so close. WTA's executive director is on the Greenway Trust's board, and Margaret has known nearly all of our Executive Directors, from Elizabeth Lunney, to Karen Daubert, to our current executive diretor, Jill Simmons. 

"I think that's one of the unique things about the nonprofit community in this region. There are so many volunteers and partners here, collaboration is paramount. It's a good example for the rest of the country. There are so many various projects in this region, if we don't band together, nothing is going to happen."

By banding together and sparking interest and passion in volunteers, this community can get a lot done, but having that initial moment of empowerment is important.

"Crosscutting is still, to this day, my favorite thing to do on a trail. It shaped how I feel about volunteerism in general and made a huge difference in how I can shape the work on a trail."