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Invisible volunteers

The other work of volunteers-- educating and influencing elected officials and agencies.

By Stuart H. Macdonald

"Some of the most important work for trails is being done by the volunteers who learn to effectively reach our elected officials, business leaders, and decision makers."

Volunteers are the photogenic part of trail work. Open most any local trails publication and you'll see pictures of smiling folks with trail tools and wheelbarrows-- tired, happy, and proud. It's easy to be proud when you can measure your day's accomlishment in feet of trail or rock walls or boardwalk.

But there are other volunteers who don't show up in photos. And their progress is slow, uncertain, and often invisible. But these folks are working just as hard to build trails through the political process.

Some of the most important work for trails is being done by the volunteers who learn to effectively reach our elected officials, business leaders, and decision makers. For many people, every mile down the trail takes them happily away from these exact aspects of life. The truth is, most of us choose to spend our volunteer hours under the sun or among the trees, not under television lights or in flourescent-lit basements.

These unsung (or at least unphotographed) volunteers are coercing agencies into funding trails, developing volunteer programs with reluctant land managers, patiently explaining the importance of trails toelected officials, planning media events to publicize trails and politicians, even working on the election campaigns of trails-friendly legislators.

How do you learn to be an effective volunteer in this arena? The 1996 National Trails Symposium, March 9-12, will emphasize these kinds of skills in workshops and presentations. We will focus on effective citizen action at all levels:

-- Developing relationships with elected officials;

-- Influencing town, county, and state elected officials;

-- Understanding federal appropriations and lawmaking;

-- Working with decision makers at all levels of government

-- Communicating effectively in the political arena;

-- Mobilizing and motivating trails activists.

Do you have some good stories about trail volunteers working in this arena? We'd love to print some good examples and success stories from around the country. Send us an article from your trail publication or send us a note by mail or e-mail. If there are individuals or trail clubs to be recognized, give us their names.

Please send your information or suggestions to Stuart Macdonald, editor of www.AmericanTrails.org and the American Trails Magazine.

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