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Virtual Classroom: Crew Leader College Moves (Partially) Online

Posted by Anna Roth at May 05, 2021 12:17 PM |

This weekend marks the beginning of WTA's 2021 Crew Leader College, a chance to help our crew leaders and assistant crew leaders refine their skills. Here's how we're adapting this year to share new learning about trail work, all while keeping everyone safe.

This weekend marks the beginning of WTA's 2021 Crew Leader College. Each May, before WTA's summer trail work season gets into full swing, hundreds of crew leaders and assistant crew leaders meet up in North Bend to refine their trail maintenance and leadership skills. But of course, that's not the case this year. We're adapting our approach in 2021 to accommodate for COVID-19.

Crew Leader Patrick Sullivan snaps a selfie with his masked-up crew in the background before heading out on a multi-day trip to Marmot Pass. Photo by Patrick Sullivan
Crew leader Patrick Sullivan snaps a physically distanced selfie with his masked-up crew before heading out for a BCRT at Marmot Pass in late summer 2020. Photo courtesy Patrick Sullivan.

That means this year's training is a hybrid model. We're hosting virtual events as well as in-person. The in-person trainings will be smaller and spread out statewide over the month of May, rather than in one place over one weekend.

Zoom Rooms

While the transition to online work was sudden and jarring, we found a way to make it work last year, and in some cases, found that offering digital opportunities to connect with WTA can be a more equitable option.

Online trainings meant our volunteers could keep their leadership certifications up to date while staying safe from COVID, and it allowed people from across the state to attend trainings together, without having to pay for travel or take as much time off work.

Southwest Washington Zoom training. Screenshot courtesy Janee Romesberg
Zoom rooms were a 2020 adaptation, but we got used to them quickly, and soon were hosting lots of trainings in-home. Screenshot courtesy Janée Romesberg

WTA was lucky to have partners who were flexible with our agreements and who trusted us to continue to deliver our work in a different way. 

"That nimbleness allowed us to move our programs forward despite the pandemic, and deliver work that land managers rely on us for," said Jen Gradisher, trails program director. "Volunteers help free up agency staff time for other tasks, so being able to work through last years pandemic, even with small work parties, increased land manager capacity."

Strength in small numbers

When Stay Home, Stay Healthy was the name of the game, we shut down our in-person work parties completely. But 2 months later, after collaborating with a safety consultant, we rolled out protocols that aligned with the state's COVID restrictions so we could host in-person gatherings safely.

Sign notifying hikers that crew is working according to COVID protocols. Photo courtesy Stasia Honnold.
Signs alerted hikers that crews were working in the field and asked hikers to help out by observing physical distancing. Photo courtesy Stasia Honnold.

Of course, this meant that our work parties were quite small to begin with, but gradually we started being able to include more volunteers. We still had to keep crew sizes small, which made it difficult for folks to get out with the frequency that they were used to.

Some folks in our leadership community noticed this limitation, and reduced the number of days they signed up in order to make room for other people. This gesture of making space for other folks did not go unnoticed, and was a generous move in a year when contact with friends was scarce.

A volunteer smiles next to a newly-cut log. Photo by Robert Canvass
By reducing the number of work parties they were on last year, some folks in our leadership community made space for newer volunteers to experience the joy of hands-on trail work. Photo by Robert Canvass.

We're still nowhere near the 30+ volunteer events of 2019, but we're hoping to add a few more people to our rosters as the year goes on. Last year highlighted that smaller work parties allow for more effective teaching moments and more meaningful crew interactions. With that in mind, we anticipate keeping crews a little smaller to improve the overall volunteer experience moving forward.

So what does it mean for Crew Leader College?

The success of our shift to virtual trainings, and a successful rollout of COVID protocols for in-person events, helped us created the hybrid model of this year's Crew Leader College.

We'll have four trainings online, and 16 trainings will be in person (you do have to do trail work in person, after all). We also refreshed our online resources (see "Supplemental Materials" box) if you need a reminder of what exactly that rake-y tool is you use to tamp the trail down. 

To help keep the in-person trainings safe, we're opting to spread them out over the month of May, with smaller events around the state.

A trainer points at a trail work diagram spread out on a table.
This year, we'll have small in-person trainings spread out across the state for Crew Leader College. Photo by Rachel Wendling.

Land managers have taken notice of our adaptability. A partner at Washington State Parks said to us recently, "WTA has been looked to as an example of how things are going and as a model of how to adapt and find solutions and move forward."

We're hopeful that someday we'll be able to bring our whole leadership community back together safely. Meanwhile, we're grateful for the flexibility and understanding from our volunteer leaders and agency partners.

If you want to join a work party to learn from the folks who will be taking these courses, you can sign up at See you in the field or online!