Trails for everyone, forever
Washington Trails Association (WTA) is the voice for hikers in Washington state. WTA protects hiking trails and wildlands, takes volunteers out to maintain our trails, and promotes hiking as a fun and healthy way for people to explore the outdoors.
WTA was founded in 1966 by the late guidebook author Louise Marshall. It began as Signpost, a grassroots magazine where trail lovers in the Northwest could share their backcountry adventures and trail conditions.
It soon became much more than a magazine. Thanks to Louise’s leadership it evolved into Washington Trails Association, a community of hikers speaking out for trails and wildlands. The late hiking guidebook author Ira Spring also played a key role in the history of WTA, serving on its Board of Directors from 1982 until his passing in 2003.
WTA still publishes a magazine for hikers, now under the name Washington Trails. And the trip reports hikers shared with each other in Signpost are still one of the most-used hiker resources out there - the trip reports section of WTA's website.
WTA’s dynamic website launched in 1995 and was an early model for website visitors to contribute and share content, through its photo gallery, trips reports, and online trail guide. The website has continued this legacy through the launch of the Signpost Blog (named as a tribute to the earlier magazine) and our online Hiking Guide, powered by hikers like you.
Over the past two decades, WTA has been at the forefront of trail issues in our state, continuing to build on its legacy of advocacy and stewardship for hiking trails and wildlands. One of WTA’s most successful accomplishments began as a modest idea of WTA’s former executive director, the late Greg Ball. He envisioned connecting hikers directly with the stewardship of the trails they traveled on. In the early 1990s, as trail budgets began to wane, a backlog of trail maintenance repairs piled up. WTA responded by creating its volunteer trail maintenance program. Although it had humble beginnings, the program quickly grew. That first year, in 1993, volunteers completed 250 hours of trail work on National Parks and Forest trails; in 2017 volunteers logged more than 160,000 hours. It’s now the largest program of its kind in the nation.
Hiking trails and wildlands in Washington state have benefited tremendously from the sharp increase in volunteer stewardship and trail maintenance on our public lands, especially in light of diminishing trail budgets. “Without the WTA trail volunteers, we would barely be able to keep a lot of trails open," said Gary Paull, wilderness and trails coordinator for the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Over the past decade, WTA has added week-long Volunteer Vacations to its program, youth trail maintenance for high school students and expanded regionally to host trail maintenance work parties throughout the state.
Speaking out for hiking trails has always been a key component of WTA’s core mission. WTA weighs in on a variety of issues that impact hikers, from trail funding to wilderness protection to forest planning.
In the late-1990s WTA mobilized a large-scale lobbying effort to reform a state trail-funding program that was unfair to hikers. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people explore Washington's parks and forests by hiking, backpacking, sightseeing, mountain biking, and using stock like horses and llamas. They contribute millions of dollars annually through a gas tax to the state NOVA (Non-Highway and Off Road Vehicle Activities) program but received only a small percentage of the benefit in grants to maintain hiking trails. Recognizing the unfairness of the NOVA program allocations, WTA and other representatives from all recreational trail users came together and developed a consensus solution that reallocates NOVA funds to more fairly benefit the trail users that pay into the NOVA program. After many years of strategic advocacy in this effort, a bill to enact this solution was passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor in 2004. As a result, NOVA funding for non-motorized recreation increased by more than $1 million each year.
Washington Trails Association offers several ways for children and teenagers to learn about hiking, including trail maintenance Vacations for Youth, the Families Go Hiking program, and through partnerships with schools and other youth organizations.
Our mountains and forests are big enough to provide us with a lifetime of outdoor adventure and exploration, but we need trails to get us there. Washington Trails Association plays a unique role in Washington’s environmental community, bringing enthusiasts for recreation and conservation together to protect the awesome wild places we love to explore, and to protect the opportunities for people to enjoy them.