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How to Write a Trip Report That Helps WTA and Land Managers

Posted by Anna Roth at Jan 18, 2018 02:00 PM |

WTA trip reports can help land managers identify trails that need help. Here's how to write trip reports that can help trails get the work they need.

Skim WTA's trip reports after a weekend, and you'll see stunning landscapes and happy hikers. You'll also find information about downed trees, muddy trails and other information to help you plan your next hike.

But did you know that WTA and land managers also use those trip reports? That information can help plan our trail work schedule and ensure trails get the work they need. 

If you'd like to add even more useful information to your trip report, here's how you can document trail damage so a crew can get out there and do something about it.

trip report from Rolan_rolan.jpegThis gorgeous picture of trailside balsamroot and lupine also shows how the vegetation has pushed the trail downhill. Photo by Rolan. 

Help Us Help You

Hiking a well-maintained trail is luxurious. You hike faster, and you're less likely to get lost or turn an ankle. But as we've mentioned once or twice, trail funding is insufficient and agencies are understaffed. Land managers can't scout trails, so it's harder to make decisions about where to work and what needs to be done. 

WTA and land managers come together to decide on the best locations for work parties. This decision is influenced by WTA trip reports, land manager need and crew leader feedback. 

"I am often asked by land managers to give them information on their trails," Puget Sound Regional Manager Zachary McBride said. "Their resources are spread thin and they must decide where to prioritize their spending."

That's where you come in. Trip reporters can be eyes for land managers and crew leaders who can't get to all the trails they want to scout. And that can mean crews get out to trails that need help.

obstacle on trail_Mbrownell.jpeg In his recent trip report from Little Ranger Peak, mbrownell took good photos of a major slide and detailed how hard it was to navigate. Photo by mbrownell.


It's all relative

Obstacles on trail can mean many things to many people. One person's easy creek crossing may be scary for another hiker. Often trail obstacles go unreported because of this. So think of how other hikers might negotiate an obstacle. If it requires you to climb over it or significantly alter your pace, it's probably worth reporting. 

Zachary's measure for deciding on reporting an obstacle echoes this. "When I am surveying a trail I report on any obstacles that cause severe difficulty in travel."


Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

Some trail maintenance issues are so common they don't need to be reported. Tread always erodes, drains always need to be cleaned and the brush always needs a trim. But when that damage starts to impact travel, it's worth mentioning. 

"I want to know when you lose the trail or stumble because of overgrown brush, or if any sort of damage causes you to step on vegetation to avoid the obstacle," Zachary said. 

If you're unfamiliar with common trail maintenance concerns, check out our blog about 7 common trail obstacles to learn how you can recognize them.


Pics or it won't happen 

A picture's worth a thousand words, and land managers don't have time to read a thousand-word writeup of each obstacle on trail. So bring your camera and get some good shots of the issue. Here are some key things to remember, supplemented from advice with Zachary.

  • Look at the big picture

    "I need a wide-angle view of the problem. A close up of a mud puddle doesn't help much, but if you step back a few paces, I can usually see why the puddle is forming, and figure out how much work we need to do to address it. If there is a tree across the trail, take a few pictures from multiple angles."

 pyramid peak_jalaugh.jpegTrip Reporter jalaugh provided these photos of the washout on Pyramid Mountain last winter. They, in addition to the text of her trip report, will be helpful in figuring out what type of work needs to be done here. Photos by jalaugh.

  • Everything is scalable

    "Pictures of your dog are especially helpful if you put them in front of a downed tree or pit in the trail. That way I can see how large the problem or obstacle is."
  • Measure twice, let the pros cut

    "Having measurements and location are important. You don't have to be precise; if something looks like eight meters long just call it ten and I'd be happy. Try to estimate the size of a downed tree. That is important for the type of equipment I would bring with me."
    A tip for measuring obstacles, since not all of us hike with measuring tape: Lean your hiking pole against it before taking a picture or have your friend (or dog) in the frame next to the obstacle.

talapus and olallie_rayan.jpegTrip reporter Rayan captured this illustrative photo of a drainage issue at the beginning of the Talapus Lake Trail. Photo by Rayan.

For all these issues, note specifically where they are. Zachary recommends using the distance from trail junctions, stream crossings or clear landmarks. In the above photo, Rayan had this help explanation: "Wet start at the trailhead, continues for 100 yards or so."

Take It to the Next Level

Hiking guide correspondent and volunteer wilderness ranger Rolan Shomber does some scouting for Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. For his scouting trips, he writes two separate sets of trip reports: one on and a separate one, with more technical information, for the ranger district. 

"My scouting reports [for the forest] are much more detailed than the trip reports on WTA," Rolan said. "The detailed trail reports are of value to the USFS for trail work crews and visitor information. But they can also aid WTA crews. I had the opportunity to provide information to the WTA work leader for South Creek and Louis Lake last summer."

You don't have to be as technical when writing your trip reports. His trip reports are quite useful, both for hikers and for land managers. He tries to include the following, while keeping the narrative concise and easy to read. 

  • Animal observations
  • Water availability
  • Detailed type and location of impediments to allowed trail use (logs, rocks, high streams, trail erosion, trail sloughing & damage due to tree tipover, …)
  • Condition of manmade objects (turnpikes, bridges, rock walls, trail signs, campsites, …)
  • Trail user encounter information (when, where, how many, trip type, permit/trailhead register entries)
  • Trailhead information (condition of outhouse, trailhead sign, hitching rail, auto permit compliance)

Plus he includes a great combination of beautiful and helpful images. Take a look at his one from Abernathy Creek for some inspiration. 


Kermit on How to Write a Trip Report That Helps WTA and Land Managers

Other than other hikers, do people from WTA scan trip reports for specific trail damage reports?

Posted by:

Kermit on Jan 21, 2018 04:21 PM

Crystal Gartner on How to Write a Trip Report That Helps WTA and Land Managers

Hi Kermit!

Yes, both WTA trail maintenance team staff and land managers do scan trip reports for trail damage. If there are specific types of damage they look for, I'm not sure and will ask.

Did you see our recent blog post, 7 Signs Your Trail is In Trouble and What to Do About it? You may already do them, but there are some good suggestions in the comments section about how to most effectively report trail issues within trip reports so that people who are scanning them will take note.

Posted by:

HikerUp4Wilderness on Jan 26, 2018 04:25 PM

Hikeswith3 on How to Write a Trip Report That Helps WTA and Land Managers

It would be great if WTA let you specifically add a picture to the trip report with a searchable (for you guys)trail heads up tag. We only get 4 photos as it is which is never enough. I note stuff in the text but as you said pictures are better.

Posted by:

Hikeswith3 on Jun 28, 2018 10:38 AM

tracyonthetrail on How to Write a Trip Report That Helps WTA and Land Managers

Hi! I'm wondering if there are tools you use on the backend to search/filter trip reports for certain keywords to bring maintenance issues to your attention? I'm a software developer looking for projects for our upcoming hackathon and building such a tool could be a neat project to pitch.

Posted by:

tracyratops on Feb 12, 2020 03:01 PM