How Youth are Building Trails and Community — Now and For the Future
Here's a look at what WTA's youth crews accomplished this summer.
September means that school is back in session — and it’s time to celebrate the successes of WTA’s summer youth volunteers!
In 2019, WTA hosted 18 youth volunteer vacations in some of Washington’s most iconic places. Here’s a look at what these high school students accomplished with their “time off” this summer.
- More than 11 miles of trail were given new life this summer, through toughening up the trail tread to withstand the test of time, constructing new bridges and raised walkways as well as trimming back overgrowth from the trail corridor. This work will improve trail experiences for hikers, bikers, equestrians and all trail users.
- A combined total of 400 feet of brand new trail were completed by youth crews this summer, helping a lucky few learn just how much work it takes to transform an area of thick underbrush into finished trail. (Hint: It’s a lot!)
- A new public pit toilet was installed at Mazama Camp to help preserve sensitive alpine environments. The toilet helps hikers observe Leave No Trace practices — and it offers a first-class view.
This year, three of WTA’s 18 youth volunteer vacations were designed specifically for youth with shared identities. We hosted an LGBTQ+ youth crew, a Latina youth crew in partnership with Latino Outdoors during Latino Conservation Week and an all-girls youth crew. The goal of a shared-identity work party is to help ensure everyone feels welcome and represented in the WTA community. Providing a safe space for people who are part of groups currently under-represented in our volunteer base is key to increasing equitable participation and leadership, both on WTA work parties and among the broader hiking community. We’ve heard from volunteers for these events that, while they had thought of volunteering in the past, it was a specific shared-identity opportunity that encouraged them to finally sign-up.
Our youth volunteers often return from their volunteer vacations excited to share their experiences and feel empowered to make positive change in their communities. They even go on to help get other folks outdoors by starting hiking clubs, organizing work parties, loaning gear and inviting friends and family to visit the places they've worked.
In return for all they give to WTA, trails and the hiking community, youth volunteers earn a substantial number of volunteer service hours (up to 56!). While volunteers often cite service hours as their initial inspiration to sign up for a work party, they uncover many additional benefits as the week goes on. When asked why they signed up for a second trip with WTA, youth volunteers regularly highlight the opportunity they were given to showcase and practice their strengths and abilities.
Youth crews accomplished a huge amount of work this summer, but the value of these trips for WTA can't be measured solely by the miles of trail they improved. These passionate and dedicated teenage volunteers bring a flood of energy to the whole WTA community. While they certainly don’t shy away from hard work (one crew even asked for longer work days), there is never a shortage of fun either. They remind adults to not only give back to trails, but to have fun while doing it!
Through our youth volunteer vacations and day-work parties, WTA’s youth program inspires the next generation of trail stewards. Several of this year’s crew leaders got their start as WTA youth participants themselves. Passing on the skills and knowledge of how to repair trails and build a strong trail community is essential for the future of trails. Our youth crew leaders create a community where youth can bring their true and authentic selves to the group, shine in their strengths and lean into challenges in a safe and supportive environment. With their new ideas and fresh perspectives, youth volunteers are not only the leaders of the future, they are valuable leaders right now. The input from youth volunteers helps to keep our programs relevant and responsive — and moves us all closer toward our goal of trails for everyone, forever.
Are you a teen interested in being a part of trail magic? Want to get involved next summer? Have a parent or guardian create a MyBackpack account with your account as a linked dependent. Complete all the forms and apply to a specific trip when registration opens in February.