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Training and education


Austin, Texas, October 25, 2004
2004 Co-Conveners: American Trails and National Park Service



1 - Federal Interagency Training MOU
3 - Draft NTTP Competencies


Anna Atkinson USDI BLM
Roger Bell Professional Trailbuilders Assn
Dana Bell NOHVCC
Nathan Caldwell USFWS
Monica Clay Tread Lightly!
Christopher Douwes FHWA RTP
Steve Elkinton NPS
Kim Frederick Jefferson Co., CO, Open Space
Keith Ginn Trails Unlimited
Jon LeClere FHWA RTP contractor
Leon LaVigne USFS, Region 9
John Librett CDC*
Scott Linnenburger IMBA
Dianne Olson Tread Lightly!
Stuart Macdonald American Trails
Clay Malcolm Jefferson Co., CO, Open Space
Jim Miller USFS
Pam Packer COTI
Troy Scott Parker NatureShape/PTBA
Jamie Schwartz USFS DC
Tammy Vehige CDC*
Gary Warner PFNTF

*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Finally, this summer, just in time for this 5th anniversary of NTTP, the seven participating agencies have all signed an MOU supporting "interagency trails training." Steve distributed copies of the final version and added that the MOU encourages a "voluntary" association rather than an "agency directed" association of Federal agencies in participating in NTTP. Stuart will post the final text on the NTTP website.

COTI may be the only statewide volunteer trail organization in the U.S that is organized just around training. Realizing that there was a need to enhance existing knowledge and skills about trails, people in Colorado organized this group a few years ago. It is linked closely to Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC). The primary target audience is volunteers and paid staff. COTI hopes to be a model for other states, getting people to work together more efficiently.

COTI supporters came together, developed by-laws and an MOU with state agencies. One key action was verifying true field needs after getting verbal support to do a project or course - and, generally, they found that great needs were out there. Local partners overwhelmingly said "Yes!" They're biggest needs were: control of noxious weeds, trail design, construction and maintenance, and habitat restoration. After doing needs surveys, COTI found that they needed committed support (however, some partners decided this was "not their thing," after all). COTI only works with organizations that understand and support its efforts. The current partnership includes 32 agency and organizational partners.

Defining the group's scope was important. Partners agreed on the big picture, with an emphasis on crew leadership and general conservation skills (not just trail building and maintenance). COTI had to decide whether or not it would serve as the official training coordinator for State agencies, or focus local existing groups. (This issue may vary from state to state.) Eventually, COTI developed a "train the trainer" model to distribute its skills as widely as possible by certifying instructors, not every student. The curriculum was carefully developed and widely reviewed. The main focus is to make sure trainers know their stuff, to become known for high-quality training that becomes known throughout the state. Credibility comes from outside, not from within.

For example, COTI and Forest Service work together on chainsaw training and certification. However, those who received this certification can only work on FS lands (with the approval of local managers) and must get permission to work on other Federal lands. (This brought up the whole topic of transferability between agencies. Because trails cross many physical and agency boundaries, there is a need for transferability of certification from one agency and one state to another. How do we break down these barriers?)

Certification is a tough challenge. What do customers find as the most valuable? Where is the line between education and certification? (Analogy between American Red Cross CPR training and others.) One certifies, another educates, but what does the customer feel is high quality and effective? Listen closely to feedback from customers.

COTI wants to be able to track volunteers who attend their courses to see how effective they apply these skills. Establishing a reputation for high-quality training will lead to wider acceptability. They are beginning to develop benchmarks. Perhaps an outside agency could evaluate its program, since COTI can't do this internally. Could NTTP become such an approval authority? Current COTI curriculums still need to be refined, tested, etc. NTTP can do peer review but maybe not rubber stamp any such training program. Some skills can be taught such as technical skills, but those same people may not have leadership skills. Many trail skills are subjective, with regional variations (unlike chainsaw use). COTI seeks to "normalize" knowledge without making it too standardized.

The COTI instructor to student ratio is generally 1 to 5 up to 1 to 7. This leads to good training when groups are small -- more 1-on-1 mentoring relationships with an emphasis on broad (not specialized) skills: safety, knowledge, and fun. Much of the teaching is broad, basic skills that cross all boundaries (such as clearing corridors, drainage ditches, etc.). The focus is on making sure volunteers are safe and not causing any damage. When volunteers have fun they will want to come back and learn more.

Liability is a big issue. How can participants be approved as volunteers across state and regional boundaries without having to get re-approved? Certification should only be required for health and safety issues, not all skills. There is less legal exposure by establishing guidelines rather than standards, trying to keep it simple, finding common elements.

It is challenging to balance the time demands of meaningful certification without losing people's attention and commitment. Too much paperwork or rigid standards will be counterproductive.

The COTI website,, is hosted by NTTP on the NTTP website, as one of NTTP's services for partner groups. The COTI MOU is attached.

For "hybrid contracting," the contractor does the hard stuff while volunteers carry out the easier ground work, learning more complex skills along the way. It is an effective learning opportunity and could be formalized more. A training component can be added to almost any trail construction project. This will be a new emphasis for Professional Trail Builders Association (PTBA).

How did COTI get agencies to sign on? COTI organizers went to top executives, such as the director of state parks or Federal state and regional directors. COTI had no lack of nonprofits who wanted to sign on; there was more difficulty with Federal agencies because their solicitors got involved. Once Colorado agency leaders approved, this created a momentum to get others involved. Some Federal agencies were more eager than others.

What skills are most in demand? COTI has found that the biggest need for more skills is in trails system management. They have seen a lot of ineffectiveness, a decline in knowledge recently as people retire and move on.

What is the best way to start a volunteer program? Many agencies want more volunteers and may appoint a staff member to be a volunteer coordinator for their agency, but they have no experience in establishing a volunteer program. COTI is hoping to add that skill set as a component in 2005.


Outreach (starting with the notes from yesterday's committee meeting, in italics)
Participating Committee members: Stuart Macdonald, American Trails - Lead; Dana Bell, NOHVCC; Monica Clay and Dianne Olson, Tread Lightly!; Kim Frederick, Jefferson County CO Open Space and COTI; and Deb Salt, BLM.

The group discussed marketing NTTP and reaching target audiences (land management agency staff, university professors and students, and trail-oriented organizations). A new tactic is needed since NTTP is not seen as "sexy." It is a valuable service, BUT.... Can we create "brand awareness?" Can we legitimately ask, "Do You Need NTTP?" We need a new tactic that stresses NTTP's value. Let's rollout NTTP "TP" - create brand awareness, use the product.

In the past, it appears that we have promoted this partnership more strongly then the product. Some of NTTP's marketing needs include:

  • More web marketing
  • More information distribution
  • More rigid analysis
  • Something different and exciting - traditional ways have not worked for the past 4 years
  • Clear definition of product
  • Universal recognition by target audiences of product
  • To go to the audience: What do they want? How can we provide it? How do we let them know about this service?
  • Determining what is most attractive and useful
  • Avoiding massive or duplicate efforts - direct them to where it is

Then the group brainstormed some ideas that could give NTTP a new image: a make-over with some humor, something classy, perhaps linked to a brief survey on website. Do you need NTTP? (Play on the term "TP"). Have fun. Get involved in something unique. Seek natural sponsorships. Involve non-profits rather than agencies.

The group then analyzed the negatives to this "TP" idea: It may be offensive to some. It may reflect badly on NTTP. It would not be appropriate for agencies. Perhaps it is too humble. It certainly may not be a good long-term advertising tactic and may not create a positive first impression. Will the audience get the message and accept it at the level intended?

The group decided to recommend it as a dry-run test to the NTTP steering committee, perhaps by making NTTP TP available at the next Professional Trailbuilders Association (PTBA) meeting in February and see if it raises interest as seen in increased hits on the NTTP website.

Discussion: The group considered this proposal. The NTTP website currently averages 13 hits a day. The committee will try to develop several marketing strategies, rather than put all their eggs in this one TP basket.

Training Content and Competencies (also starting with yesterday's committee minutes in italics)
Committee members present: Roger Bell, contractor (convener); Gary Werner, Partnership for the National Trails System; Christopher Douwes and Jonathan LeClere, FHWA; Jim Miller, Forest Service; Troy Scott Parker, author and trainer; Terry Gimbell and Pam Packer, COTI; Steve Elkinton, National Park Service; and Cam Lockwood, Trails Unlimited.

Pam Packer, of COTI, gave an overview of that group's evolution and successes, handing out a very informative packet about COTI and related initiatives. COTI trains organization staff to coordinate training within their groups. It seeks to provide more volunteer management for agency staff, starting by working with agencies that want to work with volunteers, than go from there. What does it mean to be a volunteer manager? COTI hasn't yet developed this management training program yet, but is working on it.

Steve E. asked how COTI defines competencies. Start by looking for certification standards for crew leaders. COTI works with Conservation USA (the former TRAILBoss program) that seeks to establish a national level certification program for their volunteers. Pam is helping them stay focused. A person who trained through COTI could then supplement their training with ConservationUSA certification.

National certification gives you recognition at the national level. One of the benefits that NTTP could provide is that it would allow certifications to be recognized by various agencies. The big question is "How can certification be mutually established to be recognized by various agencies and/or regions?" Who is the certifier? How can the certifiers be recognized as reliable?

COTI training focuses on crew leadership - leadership skills, people skills, and safety. This is the major need now in Colorado. For competency definition they have looked at the interpreters' process [as we heard about last June] which has a 3-part process (all weighed separately): a written exam, a video demonstrating competencies, and peer evaluations. Adapting this, COTI didn't feel that a video presentation was practical time-wise. Instructors should follow trained crew leaders to reinforce competencies. A 4 hour exam for each person is too much. Instructors are also volunteers, so COTI needs to make sure the experience is rewarding for them, too. Most crew leaders will just go back to their own organizations - for those who wish to cross state boundaries or otherwise transfer certification, COTI will give additional documentation of achievement.

Discussion: Are volunteers able to put the time in on a national basis to complete and maintain certification status? Agencies (such as FS and BLM) now require their people to get certified in such areas as bridge inspections, chainsaw certification, etc. requires it. The biggest challenge is to do it efficiently. The last thing that anyone wants is for a volunteer to go out and present himself or herself as COTI trained/certified and do the job poorly. Yet there is little quality control after training. Attending training and getting a certification doesn't mean you'll do the job well in the field. There is a trade-off between having many volunteers doing things poorly or fewer volunteers doing things well.

Fire Training Certification follows a pyramid structure: at the top are a few very skilled trainers; at the lowest level are many slightly skilled people. Work together. Base test with other modules to improve skills and knowledge. This can be very labor intensive. Focus attention on instructors, not testing crew leaders yet, due to time, size, and complications. NTTP provides opportunities on its website but doesn't certify or train -- and probably won't go there in the near future.

Pam suggested setting up generic criteria and encouraging agencies to incorporate competencies into their training program. No national recognition is now available. Many trainees are at top of their organizations. A nationally recognized certificate would be beneficial and encourage participation.

What would be the ideal for trail training? Troy asserted that certification will not work. It is too involved and insensitive to changing conditions. Trail training doesn't lend itself to standardization: trails are too complex. There are too many factors, the range of needed skills is far wider than can be tested. Troy is not against standards, per se, but against standardization. Train people in a way of thinking, provide opinions and options, not standards. The important thing is to think about what the product should be and who the audience is. Some standards can be learned such as how to measure tread width, length, grade etc. Some things can't be taught in class, or in a text. In the field you can improve upon classroom teachings. Field training is a better way to learn. Practice improves upon skills. We need to help people learn how to learn. There is a bigger picture, philosophical as well as technical.

The discussion ended with the question of whether competency-based training or certification for NTTP is feasible at this time. Steve E handed out a draft list of competencies for various types of trail work for the group to consider in the future.

Discussion: The group shared concerns about certification, the need to recognize and strengthen skills, minimum guidance while fostering higher-level training. The group would like to work on competency statements (using Steve's handout as a point of departure). Before the next meeting, this committee should prepare a draft of competency statements and distribute it for comment.

Trails look easy but are complicated and require many, complex skills. Perhaps one type of certification could be continuing education credits (CEUs). This brings up certification among trail-training providers - none is to date (at least through NTTP).

Committee members have plenty on their plates. It might be helpful to have a committee meeting in conjunction with the March, 2005, PTBA conference in Reno.


March 8-10 Professional Trails Builders Association (PTBA) Conference, Reno, NV
March 17-18 National Association of OHV Program Managers, Ontario, CA
March 18-20 National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council, Ontario, CA
June 1-4 International Snowmobile Congress, Salt Lake City, UT
June 6-10 Great Outdoors Week, Washington, DC
June 18-21 National Scenic and Historic Trails Conference, Las Vegas, NV
July 14-16 Southeastern Equestrian Trails Conference, High Point, NC
July 27-30 TrailLink 2005, International Trails and Greenways Conference, Minneapolis, MN

Tentatively this group will meet March 7 or 11 in Reno at the PTBA Conference and again in the DC area about June 6.

Next year, the NTTP Steering Committee will be co-convened by:

Nonprofit: Diane Olson, Tread Lightly
Federal: Jamie Schwartz, USDA, Forest Service

Stuart Macdonald and American Trails will continue to serve as staff support.

OUTREACH Lead: Stuart Macdonald
TRAINING Lead: Pam Gluck

To mark this 5th anniversary meeting of NTTP, Steve E., using the "plus/delta" technique and asked the group to brainstorm aspects of NTTP that have been successful - and then to make suggestions of ways it could be improved. Lack of time did not allow any follow-up prioritization or discussion, but many of these items will appear in future NTTP agendas.


  • Developed national web-based calendar
  • Credibility of name and website
  • Member benefits of relationships and knowledge
  • Written record of meetings and accomplishments
  • Good website
  • Attracted federal funding and support
  • Private sector agreement (13 nonprofits)
  • Federal agency MOU (7 agencies)
  • Serves as a national forum
  • Encourages agencies to work together
  • Trust and good will within diverse groups


  • Establish a clear identity and purpose
  • Develop measurable objectives
  • Develop a timetable, perhaps a strategic plan to enhance coordination
  • Invest in effective outreach for recognition by officials, course participants, public
  • Establish partner buy-in on trail training guidelines
  • Identify gaps, duplications and needs - standard needs assessment (use BLM as baseline)
  • Move past start-up issues
  • Given current constraints of time and money, focus on 1 or 2 efforts that we can all agree on and then accomplish
  • Cross-train locally and regionally - cluster skill-building geographically to open up opportunities and better communication locally
  • Highlight (target) courses that support various groups and agency missions
  • All NTTP partners need to list their offerings
  • Encourage better communication & involvement by states
  • Take the training locally
  • Research to identify current gaps, both content-wise and geographically.
  • Find funds within agencies to support training participants
  • Develop a group charter - this could help with credibility in fund raising
  • Enable inquirers at the website to request information not easily found there
  • Establish regular process to call NTTP members and others on a regular basis
  • Involve training professionals from our agencies and groups
  • Ramp up staffing as funding allows
  • Develop feedback loop to demonstrate NTTP as a link - a source of valuable information
    • On course evaluations
    • On websites
    • SAs, ads, interest groups
  • Reach out to underutilized
  • Draft a marketing plan
  • Use national training centers and their "road shows"

Each NTTP partner will be asked to offer three votes for the three actions above they think is most critical.


  • Publicize the agency agreement (all)
  • Place agency agreement on website (Stuart)
  • Distribute agency & COTI agreements to NTTP partners electronically
  • (attachments to these minutes)
  • Identify training problems/obstacles/missing (all to Stuart)
  • Distribute COTI evaluation forms (all)
  • Send "Volunteer Development" booklet to COTI (NOHVCC)
  • Revise what is on NTTP page/what we are/how to request our services (Stuart and NOHVCC)
  • Revise evaluation/add question where did they hear about the workshop (all providers)
  • Establish automatic workshop training release process (NOHVCC as model)
    • USFW
    • NTTP
    • FS
    • BLM
    • State DNR
    • State F&G


  • Parker, Troy Scott, 2004, Natural Surface Trails by Design - Physical and Human Design Essentials of Sustainable, Enjoyable Trails

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