Volunteers make Trails for All go, and we often mean that literally. Take Chris Eichman for example. He retired to the valley a few years ago, after a career split between forestry and civil service with the U.S. government. One thing he has never lost is a passion for the out-of-doors, and with retirement he has space and time to pursue doing what he loves best: hiking, backpacking, fishing, skiing. From the beginning he has been a part of Trails For All, leading trail maintenance crews, getting training from the Forest Service, and attending Trails board meetings and clinics. Recently, he completed training for certification in using a cross-cut saw! He loves the out-of-doors and has a heart for solitude and wonder, elevation and distance.
Back in April, Chris had the opportunity to attend a workshop called The Central Rockies Wilderness Volunteer Workshop, representing Trails For All. It was hosted by a fabulous group called the Poudre Wilderness Volunteers, who care for the national forests near Fort Collins, CO. Chris went to see what other groups like Trails For All are doing, and he returned from this 3-day conference with energy, ideas, and inspiration. I interviewed him in mid-April, and here are some ideas that might help Trails For All.
Take apps, for example. Technology is having an increasing impact in wilderness care, especially through the use of apps on trail users’ smartphones. So, with the right app, anyone working on a trail this summer can input data about noxious weeds, erosion, trees down, illicit campsites too close to a lake or a trail or a creek, the number of people and horses met that day on the trail, dogs off leash, and much more. Such data has become increasingly a factor in the awarding of grants, by making a quantifiable case for needs.
Collaboration with other user groups was another important theme that Chris heard. The more communication and cooperation between various user groups, the more community will develop and everyone benefits. There was a special emphasis at this workshop on the connection between hikers and horsemen/horsewomen.
Most trails groups are challenged by the need to raise funds. Grant-writing received a fair amount of attention. Creating membership was also suggested, with a modest annual fee and a number of benefits that might be associated with membership. And corporate sponsorship is becoming a reality in many parts of the country, with a company or institution sponsoring a trails group in return for displaying that organization’s logo on its website, shirts, or publications.
Perhaps most important of all, the care and celebration of volunteers was given a high value at this workshop. Those who taught on this theme insisted that thanking people for what they have done is vital. Having distinctive shirts, vests, and/or patches lend official authorization and help create a sense of team loyalty, especially in the realm of trails maintenance. Photos posted from events on Facebook and our website are always helpful in making what we do real to those outside the organization. And there is no way to overestimate the goodness of social events to celebrate work completed, to experience the bonds that are formed when we work together, and to share the sense of accomplishment.
If you’re reading this and you aren’t plugged into the life and work of Trails For All, you’re missing out on time with some amazing people, like Chris Eichman. Come join us this summer. We have a lot of work to do, and we do it better together!
Post contributed by Paul Parsons, TfA President