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Volunteer Crew Leaders Make Our Work Happen

If you've volunteered with WTA, you know the impact just one day on trail can make. But there might be more volunteers on your work party than you realize...

We love volunteers. If you've ever donned a green hat and put a tool to dirt with WTA, you've seen firsthand the impact a group of hardworking volunteers can have on trail. They help improve, even create trails across the state, and we break our trail maintenance records every year thanks to their efforts.  

Randy Greyerbiehl, one of WTA's volunteer crew leaders, after a successful creek crossing in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness. Photo from WTA Archives. 

What you may not know is how much WTA relies on volunteers in our leadership, too. Those folks with orange hats? They're assistant crew leaders, and almost always volunteers. Sometimes even the crew leader (that person in the blue hat) is a volunteer. WTA does hire crew leaders to host work parties, but as a nonprofit, we simply can't pay as many crew leaders as we need to get our record-breaking work done.

So we're extremely lucky that some individuals in our community feel strongly enough about our mission to volunteer as crew leaders. Some are retired, but many have full-time jobs or families to make time for as well. Anyone who takes their investment in trails to this level is hugely appreciated. 

Ensuring Work gets done

On the Olympic Peninsula, WTA has just one paid crew leader — Charlotte (Charlie) Romine. She primarily leads day work parties, but we can only get so far into a trail in a day. Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest rely on WTA crews to do the majority of their trail maintenance, including the stuff deep in the backcountry, so we depend on volunteer crew leaders to make those trips happen.

Becca explaining crosscut sawing to a volunteer. Photo from WTA archives. 

The backcountry trips are led by volunteers Gregg Grunenfelder, Becca Wanagel, Al Mashburn, Scott Dallasta, Don Hammon and Ken Vandver, as well as current board member Mason White. Janice O'Connor, who has been volunteering with WTA for more than 20 years, still takes the lead on our all-women's volunteer vacations, and though Christine Peterson has scaled back her time recently, she still leads a once-yearly work party out at Dosewallips State Park, working on a trail that's only hikeable at low tide.

Some of these people have shaped the volunteer program for years. Alan Carter Mortimer, field programs manager remembers, "Christine was one of our first volunteers, and Janice O'Connor originally brought the idea of an all-women's work party to us years ago. They're innovative and reliable."

Jane Baker, one of WTA's first volunteer blue hats, still leads work parties in and around Spokane. Photo by Allie Tripp. 

Those qualities are on display in our crew leaders in Spokane, too. Jane Baker, who still crew leads for us, was one of the first WTA representatives we had in that corner of the state. She began by leading volunteer vacations; now she leads BCRTs and day work parties as well.

While she was the sole WTA representative in Spokane for a long time, she's since been joined by volunteer crew leaders Randy Greyerbiehl and Todd Dunfield to support Holly Weiler, our paid crew leader in the area. 

Jane's innovative approach to trail work was evident this winter. Typically, our volunteer program in Spokane doesn't work in the winter due to snow. But this year, Jane came up with a creative way to offer volunteer opportunities with snow on the ground; a snowshoe-powered work party!

Todd, along with Randy Greyerbiehl and Jane Baker, have been helping WTA steward trails in Spokane for years. Photo courtesy Todd Dunfield. 

Alan acknowledges that without these volunteers, WTA would be hard-pressed to improve trails in these areas.

"They help WTA increase our visibility and presence in an area where it's hard for staff to get to. The Olympics, Spokane; the volunteers there are a big reason we have our trail maintenance presence there at all."

Local Connections

That commitment from locals is part of what makes these volunteer crew leaders so valued. Land managers love it when they see locals taking a vested interest in their backyard, and that forges strong connections. These folks bring a depth and sincerity to the role that makes working with them a real joy.

Volunteer crew leaders like Mike (in the blue hat) help make work parties welcoming and fun for volunteers. Photo courtesy Mike Bellis. 

Like the leaders in the Olympics and Spokane, we are lucky to have Mike Bellis and Terry Lamp in the northwest region, and Tom Griffith, Gabe Smith and Lee Young in the southwest. They increase our capacity to do more work, but they also shore up the relationships we build with land managers. 

Arlen Bogaards, northwest regional manager, has seen this play out firsthand since Mike and Terry started helping out.

"I do love our volunteer blue hats. Their commitment to WTA helps to amplify our mission and creates more opportunities for volunteers to give back under a variety of leadership styles." 

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Terry Lamp helps Arlen offer multiple volunteer opportunities every week in the northwest region. Photo courtesy Arlen Bogaards

Ryan Ojerio, southwest regional manager, reflects on how blue hats have shaped Washington's trail network, both now and in the past.

"Our volunteer blue hats helped create the program we have today by building up the volunteer community even before we had a staff presence in the region. Today they not only lead projects, but help identify and design new trails and structures, teach at our annual Trail Skills College, and mentor our upcoming generation of leaders."

In the southwest region, Tom, Gabe and Lee have helped scout new trail routes, and build those same trails once the permits come through. And sometimes, when they aren't crew leader, these folks still come out on work parties as green or orange hats, to help get trail work done and get experience seeing other crew leaders in action. 

And the connections aren't just with land managers. Crew leaders also keep our relationship with partners like Back Country Horsemen of Washington (BCHW) healthy. Gary Zink runs BCRTs in the central Cascades on trails that BCHW has a vested interest in, and on the Peninsula, Becca Wanagel does the same. 

Gabe Smith (left) and Tom Griffith (right) on the Angry Mountain BCRT in 2018. On a crew led by fellow volunteer Ken Vandver, they spent four days improving the trail and experiencing each other's leadership styles. Photo by Erik Haugen-Goodman. 

Helpful in a pinch (or whenever, really)

Our deep roster of volunteers help us stretch our small budget, provide important links to their local communities. But they're also their own community, supporting and covering for each other when necessary. Tim Van Beek, WTA's field programs manager who organizes volunteer vacations for WTA points to one recent instance of this.

"One year, right before the crew was going to head out, the crew leader for Kalaloch volunteer vacation got sick. Lisa Black, who is a volunteer blue hat, was signed up for that trip as a volunteer, so I asked if she'd lead and she said yes. That was huge. If she hadn't stepped up, I'd have had to cancel that trip."

Volunteer crew leaders step up when WTA needs flexibility and strong leadership. Photo by Anna Roth. 

These folks step up when weather messes with our trail work schedule, too. This winter, we had to cancel 16 work parties due to snow. Land managers, specifically King County Parks, where we often work in winter, were strapped for staff and time and called on us for support. In response to their need, volunteer blue hat Emily Snyder led a series of logouts at Cougar Mountain

Zachary McBride, Puget Sound Field manager, explains just how valuable this commitment is, because it affords WTA better flexibility to handle demand.  

"This winter was very difficult for field work. Without blue hats Emily Snyder, Bob Adler, and Jay Schram, I wouldn't have been able to respond quickly to what land managers needed from us. They're backlogged with projects, but our volunteer blue hats' flexibility allows us to respond quickly to help our partners. We tackled a number of projects that agencies would have otherwise been hard pressed to address. They are vital to the WTA field program."

Jay Schram, sporting an orange hat, evaluates how to fix a section of trail on a recent work party. Photo by Britt Lê.

And they're not just vital in the field. We also rely on volunteers to help in pre-packing to support of our backcountry trips. Pat Limberg,a longtime volunteer, leads work parties at WTA's packing facility in North Bend.

These work parties offer volunteers a new way to steward trails and participate in the community. Volunteers here help pack gear and food for volunteer vacations, so the folks heading into the backcountry to repair trails can be properly kitted out. Additionally, Pat's willingness to manage the packing facility has allowed Rick Beckel, our logistics coordinator, the opportunity to participate in a volunteer vacation for the first time this year. 

"Pat has been an important part of the volunteer vacation operation behind the scenes for years. Our operation is more adaptable and stronger than ever as a result since she's stepped up and relieved pressure on staff," Rick says. "Volunteers' growing role at the packing facility is a prime example of the essential role they play in powering WTA, and we are lucky to have Pat as one of our leaders!"

The commitment these people have made to WTA is what allows us to offer multiple work parties per day, across the state. Come meet one of them on a work party near you