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Then and Now: WTA Looks Forward

Posted by Erika Haugen-Goodman at Jan 03, 2017 02:35 PM |

As we close the book on our 50th anniversary, we look back into WTA's past, and also to the future and what we hope to achieve in the coming years.

At the beginning of 2016, the idea of creating the Then and Now blog series was hatched to provide a look into the history of WTA in our 50th anniversary year. After all, it's not every year that you get to turn half a century old (or young).

As I researched stories to write throughout 2016 I came across fun personal anecdotes, stories lost to time and eye-opening facts about Washington's environment and hiking community. Sifting through these moments in history, it became clear to me that while WTA has done a great deal of work for hikers in Washington in our first 50 years, we also have a lot of work still to do in the next 50 and beyond.

So, to wrap up the year and the Then and Now series, this final entry will not only be a look into the past 50 years leading up to where we are now as an organization, but also a look to the future and what we plan to achieve. I hope you've enjoyed these glimpses into WTA's history and I'm excited to see what we can do working together as hikers in the coming years.

Then: where we were

Fifty years ago, Washington Trails Association wasn't anything resembling the organization you probably know today. In fact, WTA started as Signpost, a newsletter for hikers to share trail conditions. Our office was a little red barn, there was no Hiking Guide, and trip reports were mailed rather than posted online (the internet wouldn't be in homes for another 20 years).

50th Then and Now Final
One of the early Signpost editions (left) and Louise Marshall (right) who first published the Signpost in 1966.

At the heart of Signpost was a dedication to Washington's hiking community that has endured. As interest grew in the newsletter, the opportunity to have a bigger impact on hiking was born. Advocacy and access became key issues in ensuring hikers could enjoy the trails that Washington has to offer, and we became an official nonprofit organization in 1980 as the Signpost Trails Association to expand advocacy efforts.

In 1985, the organization was officially renamed to Washington Trails Association. The next decade gave rise to our trail maintenance program in 1993. With the support of our members we were also able to have an immediate impact on key advocacy efforts affecting hikers, such as NOVA, which resulted in securing more than $14 million in funding for outdoor recreation since 2002.

From our humble beginnings in 1966 we've always been an organization focused on hikers at the heart of our work. As WTA has grown and expanded we've realized that building, maintaining and advocating for trails is only part of the puzzle so that all Washingtonians have access to quality hiking opportunities.

Now: where we are

We're proud of the accomplishments we've achieved in the first 50 years as a hiking organization. In that time we've built, maintained or protected 600 trails with 27,903 volunteers putting in more than 1.5 million hours of work. Our staff has expanded, growing from a handful of hikers to a regional network that covers all corners of the state.

2016 was a particularly noteworthy year, with progress being made across all our programs. Our trail maintenance program had an incredibly successful year tackling big projects, and our advocacy team worked with partners to strengthen our hiking community. While we've achieved a lot in 50 years, we also realize that there's a lot of work still to be done.

Ahead: where we're going

WTA has bold goals moving into the future, and at the forefront of those goals is ensuring that everyone in Washington will have access to quality hiking opportunities.

Among our approaches to achieving that, we're working on bringing lost trails back from the brink using new volunteer efforts and additional advocacy for funding -- opening up new hiking opportunities where they were lost due to funding or damage. In addition to that work we also plan to create more urban hiking opportunities and protecting heavily used and iconic trails that are seeing increased traffic.

Staff Photo 2016
WTA staff, ready to tackle new challenges in 2017 and beyond!

An equally challenging goal is ensuring that everyone who wants to hike in Washington has access to the incredible opportunities our state offers. As part of that work we're tackling the challenges of equity and inclusion head-on through comprehensive staff training, a staff committee dedicated to raising awareness of these issues and ensuring that our work is never done through a solitary lens. Working with partners and the hiking community, we're striving to make WTA an inclusive organization that will break down barriers and will never shy away from challenges regarding access to the outdoors.

For our work to have a lasting impact on trails in Washington we also realize that investing in our youth program is more important than ever. Enjoying our public lands is something we hope all new hikers and younger generations can experience, and our goals for the future include empowering the next generation to become responsible hikers. By connecting with more youth statewide we hope that the hiking community will continue to grow stronger in the future.

Of course, these goals won't be possible without you: the hikers, volunteers and WTA members who support our work. We hope you'll continue to be a part of our organization in the future as we tackle new projects, challenges and initiatives in this year and beyond.

Read more about our history and anniversary at wta.org/50.

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