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Training and education

Needs assessment for the National Trails Training Partnership


The Federal Interagency Trails Council (Council) expressed an interest in pursuing joint training among agencies and organizations. In response to this interest, the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) National Training Center (NTC) conducted a needs assessment in support of this training vision. NTC had recently completed a BLM assessment using an Internet-based questionnaire, receiving 104 BLM responses. The Council endorsed a similar method for its assessment. As a result of this second survey, we received 124 responses from various federal agencies, state agencies, and organizations, which rated 46 tasks by importance to their jobs and by their proficiency (February 15, 2000).

The survey's purpose was to determine what skills and knowledge that specialists need to do trails work. Five agency trails leaders and various trails organizations notified their field specialists in the trails, recreation, operations, and maintenance arenas and asked them to complete an Internet-based survey.

This report presents the results of 124 responses from federal agencies, state agencies, and organizations. We gathered other information on the characteristics of those surveyed, the types of trails they manage, and where they go to get more help in skill development. We also compared task importance and proficiency levels among federal agencies.

The resulting database will allow future analysis by agencies, by employee characteristics, and by types of trails managed. There are interesting findings throughout this report, and you are encouraged to read further.

Agencies and organizations now have the chance to address these and other skill deficiencies by providing training opportunities and by redirecting program and management actions. Training options include delivering courses, marketing and funding existing training by other agencies and organizations, holding workshops and conferences or conducting on-the-job training.


A. Respondent Characteristics

A total of 124 people from many agencies and organizations responded to the survey. (Note: There were 104 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) specialists who completed an earlier assessment. Thus, BLM specialists were not required to complete this Interagency Assessment).

The respondents worked at the following organizational levels:

Field, local, ranger station


State, regional, divisional




District or supervisor's office


National office


Respondents had worked in their present agency or organization as follows:

0-1 year


2-5 years


6-10 years


11-15 Years


Over 15 years


The percentage of respondents by the number of hours each week worked in your trails program is:

0-5 hours


6-10 hours


11-20 hours


21-30 hours


31-40 hours


Thirty-five percent of the specialists manage more than 50 or more miles of trails. Below is a breakdown of percentage of respondents by each mileage category.

0-1 mile


1-5 miles


5-25 miles


26-50 miles


50-100 miles


101-500 miles


B. Skill and Knowledge Needs by Task

1. Measurement of Skills and Knowledge

Respondents were asked to rate 46 trails tasks by two factors: importance of the task to their job and assessment of their current proficiency for that task. The scales for importance and proficiency were:

Importance to Their Job (I)

Current Proficiency (P)

1 = Not important

1 = No proficiency/skills

2 = Low importance

2 = Inadequate proficiency

3 = Moderate importance

3 = Adequate proficiency

4 = High importance

4 = High proficiency/skills


2. Special Note of Interpreting the Survey Results

With only 124 respondents, we can draw only general trends about the target population. A larger sample size, combined with a statistical analysis, is required to draw precise conclusions about training needs for individual agencies and organizations. However, the general trends and conclusions in this report are important for developing a high-level strategy for training.

Note that few respondents stated a NO or "1" proficiency level. Most of the variation is due to the respondents' ranking task importance as moderate "3" or high "4" and rating proficiency as inadequate or "2."

Agencies or organizations may want to conduct a more robust, statistically valid needs assessment within their own ranks. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) conducted such an assessment and received 104 responses from a target group of 500 field specialists. A copy of BLM's May 28, 1999, report may be obtained from Judy Troxel, (602) 906-5608, BLM National Training Center, 9828 N. 31st Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85051-2517.

3. Importance Level Among All Respondents

The average importance level for all of the tasks is shown on the next two pages. To help graph this information, we abbreviated some of the task descriptions. See Appendix C for a more complete wording of these tasks.

a. Average task importance

If agencies and organizations were to develop an across-the-board "general" trails course, a design team could focus on the skills listed below. Five tasks had an average importance 3.3 or higher. The most important two tasks were "working with special interest groups" and "determining how to get funding." Interestingly, the task of "how to get funding" was also the highest ranked task for the BLM specialists who were surveyed in an earlier, separate survey.

Most important tasks: Work with special interests, funding, and consulting with users

b. Task importance by categories of planning, design, construction, and maintenance

Most likely, agencies and organizations would design and deliver courses by categories, such as a trails planning or design. To support this strategy, we analyzed the average importance of each task for four categories. The five most important tasks for each category of planning, design, construction, and maintenance are shown by the following charts.

MOst important planning tasks: evaluate resource impacts

Most important design tasks: develop sign plan, lead design team, select surface materials

Most important construction tasks: restore roads and trails, use GIS and GPS

Most important maintenance tasks: check and fix hazards, maintain facilities, develop maintenance schedule

4. General Results: Importance and Proficiency Considered Together.

Below, listed in order of ranking, are trail tasks rated most important by all respondents, regardless of agency or organizational affiliation. Also, note the tasks in bold. Respondents rated these tasks much lower in proficiency that the non-bolded ones.

All Tasks - 15 most important tasks, with the most important task listed first.

  1. Work with special interest groups
  2. Determine how to get funding
  3. Consult with potential users
  4. Plan for health and safety
  5. Review existing land use plans for need
  6. Evaluate impacts on other resources
  7. Design erosional control devices
  8. Develop maintenance plan
  9. Consider accessibility needs
  10. Check/fix hazards
  11. Assess site limitations
  12. Develop coop. agreements with users
  13. Analyze existing use, traffic patterns
  14. Restore/improve existing roads/trails
  15. Evaluate and resolve visitor conflicts

Planning Tasks

  1. Work w/special interest groups
  2. Determine how to get funding
  3. Plan for health and safety
  4. Review existing land use plans for need
  5. Evaluate impacts on other resources
  6. Develop coop. agreements with users

Design Tasks

  1. Consult with potential users
  2. Design erosional control devices
  3. Develop maintenance plan
  4. Consider accessibility needs
  5. Assess site limitations


  1. Restore/improve existing roads/trails
  2. Use GIS/GPS to map proposed/actual trail
  3. Secure tools/resources for construction
  4. Build trailhead facilities
  5. Supervise/trail construction crew


  1. Check/fix hazards
  2. Maintain facilities
  3. Develop maintenance schedule
  4. Use primitive tools to maintain
  5. Supervise maintenance staff

5. Other Skill Needs

In an open-ended question, respondents were also asked to list other skills and knowledge they need to do their jobs. The most common response was a need for design skills for trails. See Appendix E for a complete listing of these other skills.

C. Recommendations to Fulfill Skill Improvement

When we look at strategies for improving job performance, in-house classroom training by an agency or organization is one of the preferred techniques. Others are training by other agencies and organizations, self-paced learning packages, on-the-job training, workshops and conferences, and job aids. Developers of any new training should target the performance needs that are most critical to their mission. Then, they should seek the most efficient and effective delivery of training and new materials to the offices.

1. How Specialists Gained Their Knowledge

Before we look at how to provide opportunities for performance enhancement, let's look at how these 124 respondents obtained their skills and knowledge in the past. We asked them to check the kinds of previous training and development they went through. Their responses are as follows:

  • % of Respondents - How they gain their knowledge
  • 82% Reading
  • 73% On-the-job training without expert
  • 58% On-the-job training with expert
  • 56% Field workshops
  • 56% Conferences
  • 28% Government classroom training
  • 23% College courses
  • 10% Private vendor training
  • 6% Internship

Most specialists said that they had gained their knowledge by "reading" or by "on-the-job training without an expert." Learning is obtained this way for several reasons. Agency or organizational training may not be readily available or, if it is available, those needing training are not aware or cannot afford existing opportunities. Thus, when specialists need information, they meet the need through self-directed reading.

While reading or on-the-job experience is certainly a low cost way to get skills, agencies and organizations need to ensure that the reading or reference materials are readily available, that specialists have time to read during job hours, and that what they are learning on-the-ground without an expert is the proper way to perform a task. Emerging technology or new procedures may not filter quickly enoughto the field by on-the-job experiences.

2. Obtaining Skills in the Future

Specialists were also asked where would they attend traditional classroom training to acquire skills and knowledge. The percentages by areas is:

  • % of Respondents - Where they would attend traditional classroom training
  • 72% Held in my state or region
  • 60% Held in my area, district, or forest
  • 36% Held at my agency's own training facility
  • 33% Held at BLM National Training Center in Phoenix
  • 31% Held at USF&WS National Conservation Training Ctr in Shepherdstown, WV
  • 0% Would not attend trails training

From the above responses, we believe that people are willing to travel some distance for training, perhaps a few hours, but they do not want to have to go too far. A possible constraint on formal training courses is the time it takes for travel. Realize, however, that it is often best to have the training occur in a place away from the normal workplace or to minimize distractions.

The percentage of specialists that would participate in an distance learning course delivered by these methods:

  • 67% Computer based
  • 58% Correspondence
  • 47% Satellite broadcast

Finally, specialists were asked what kinds of things they would like to see developed to help them in trails work. The results were as follows:

  • % of Respondents - Items to assist them in doing work
  • 76% Clearinghouse for training opportunities
  • 60% Interagency approach to training
  • 56% Manual job aids
  • 52% Videos
  • 50% Volunteer training/opportunity clearinghouse
  • 16% Other

3. New Training Development - Alternative Delivery Methods

The results of this needs assessment could help others focus on what general topics to include in training and which skills best fit together. Then, one would look for the best delivery technique such as classroom, self-paced package, on-the-job training, workshops and conferences, or job aids. A short discussion of these follows.

Our mission should be to provide quality learning experiences in the most cost effective manner. The goal is development of new trails training following proven design models. The "what" part of this design addresses the following components:

  • identify target audience
  • describe desired performance
  • determine skills and knowledge needed
  • group skills and knowledge into units
  • recommend performance exercises
  • identify unit objectives

The "how" of the design process is completing these components: choose delivery system, determine prerequisites, and build the lesson plans. The final stage is to pilot the course, evaluate, and revise if necessary.

a. Traditional Classroom Training

The preferred delivery is a classroom or workshop setting with1or more days for training in field. The more hands-on or tool-based the training is, the more time is spent in the field. Field exercises play a major role when trying to teach "tools" and techniques used in trails construction and maintenance. A variation of this is "train-the-trainer" packages where program leaders are taught both the skills and how to instruct adults, and then go to field offices to deliver the training on-site.

b. Self-Study Learning Packages

Appendix D lists respondents recommendations for existing self-paced learning packages. This will help recreation, operations, and other specialists locate resources and training opportunities. Since 82% of the respondents gain knowledge or skills through reading, a good clearinghouse may serve some of their needs.

If an agency or organization pursues self-paced packages, it may find that some areas best lend themselves to this technique. Several media can be used for self-paced learning: video and audio tapes, Internet, computer-based training, and study guides, etc. The advantage of this delivery is that it allows many people to complete the learning package at their own pace in their own office or home, using standardized materials.

c. On-the-Job Training

On-the-job training was the second most common method that respondents reported using to gain trails skills and knowledge. On-the-job training opportunities need to be well planned and executed. For example, new trail designs could be recognized on a state or national basis early enough to use these experiences as developmental opportunities. A team could be deployed to design and build a trail, with each skilled cadre member bringing skills needed to get the job done (i.e. GIS/GPS skills, design skills). Such a project would also allow novices to work with seasoned experts in a structured setting. d. Workshops and Conferences

Another option is to use statewide or national recreation workshops to foster skill development. Because the respondents said that they deal with a wide variety of trails in a wide variety of land types, a team should analyze each task and determine which tasks are completed in the same manner regardless of the type of trail or geographic area. This team also needs to determine which tasks differ by type or area. Thus, skills that differ by type or area may be better suited for state or field office workshops.

Subject material delivered at workshops and conferences should conform to the same standards as traditional classroom training of having learning objectives, lesson plans, planned instructional techniques, student interactivity, quality notebooks and handouts, and presenters who have skills in training adults. More specialized regional training, workshops, or other creative strategies would be developed if there are geographic area or trail-sensitive design and construction issues.

e. Job Aids

ob aids are tools that provide the information "just in time" when the employees need it to do their jobs. Job aids can be in the form of pocket cards, quick reference guides, or on-line user guides. In the past, most job aids were paper documents of various shapes, formats, colors, and index methods.

Computerized job aids are emerging, labeled as electronic performance support systems (EPSS). For more information on EPSS systems, visit the Internet site at

4. Clearinghouse Roles

Available resources and training information could also be distributed on a web site accessible by all agencies and organizations. The clearinghouse functions include collecting, reviewing, evaluating, and distributing trails resource materials such as job aids, videos, books, web sites, and training courses. See Appendix F for a listing of resources already on the Internet.

D. Types of Trails Managed

We wanted to determine the types of trails that specialists manage. Vital for evaluating skill needs, this information might include whether the trails are in forested areas or riparian environments or used by motorized vehicles or pedestrian travelers.

The percentage of respondents that checked the types of trails they managed is shown in bold numbers as follows:

NonMotorized Trails

  • 69% Pedestrian
  • 56% Equestrian
  • 54% Mountain bike (single or dual track)
  • 52% Interpretive
  • 41% Universally accessible
  • 30% Historical
  • 27% Cross-country skiing
  • 11% Watercraft

Motorized Trails

  • 44% Trail bikes/motorbikes
  • 42% All terrain vehicle (ATV)
  • 27% 4x4 vehicles
  • 18% Snowmobile
  • 11% Sand rails/dune buggies


The types of settings in which respondents reported that their trails occur are as follows:


% of Respondents

Categories of Lands










High desert (sagebrush)


Special geology


Low desert

The respondents named the two most important resource issues that they encounter in trails management. Recreation conflicts accounted for 59 percent of the responses


Recreation conflicts






Threatened and endangered species




Cultural resources


Wilderness or USDA Forest Service RARE II (roadless areas)

E. Factors Inhibiting Trails Work

We were interested in what factors inhibit trails work in the field. The percentage of specialists naming each inhibitor is as follows:

% of Respondents

Factors Inhibiting Trails Work


Funding for trails


Other priority items at this time


Time required to plan, design, and construct trails


Other people are not available to help plan, design and construct


Land use plans do not specify a need


Ability to maintain trail over the long run


Low user/or special interest support/involvement


Area is saturated with trails

Training Implications: In analyzing this list, it is critical to differentiate the hindrances that can be removed through training and those that need to be solved by some other means. One item that may be directly affected by training is funding, where 63 percent of the specialists felt that a lack of funding hindered their work. Training could help solve this problem by teaching how to obtain alternative sources of funding for trail projects.

F. Where Other Training and Information Can Be Obtained

1. Summary of Other Training Opportunities

Specialists were asked "What other training opportunities at the state or federal level are you aware of?" Appendix D contains the responses. Respondents listed a wide variety of opportunities with several recurring items.

2. List of Reference Materials

The audience was asked to recommend any videos, books, and other sources of trails information. Appendix E shows this information from those who responded.

3. Internet Search for Reference Materials

In an early needs assessment, the BLM National Training Center conducted a fairly simple search of the Internet for trails organizations, courses, and materials. Appendix F lists Internet sites by these categories. Although neither comprehensive nor up-to-date, this list provides a starting point for specialists to obtain further information.


The National Trails Training Partnership
American Trails, P.O. Box 491797, Redding, CA 96049-1797(530) 605-4395Fax: (530)

The National Trails Training Partnership is an alliance of Federal agencies, training providers, nationwide supporters, and providers of products and services. Visit the online calendar of training opportunities, access hundreds of trail-related resources, read the news, learn how you can help, and see training resources in your state.

This material is based upon work supported by the Federal Highway Administration under Cooperative Agreement DTFH61-06-H-00023. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Federal Highway Administration.

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