Public-Private Partnerships Enhancing Public Lands Access and Use


Statewide Youth Volunteer Trail Maintenance

Washington Trails Association (WTA) has been engaging volunteers in trail maintenance for 30 years. Since 1993, WTA has engaged more than 44,000 volunteers who have contributed more than 2.4 million hours of service to trails in Washington. As part of this robust program, WTA has been offering volunteer trail maintenance opportunities specifically for youth since 2005.

Since 2011, the Recreational Trails Program has supported WTA’s youth trail maintenance program. Through these projects, WTA has been able to expand its youth stewardship offerings and tackle trail maintenance backlogs across Washington state. During these projects, hundreds of youth (ages 10-18) were engaged in trail maintenance to address backlogs and improve family-friendly hiking, mountain biking and equestrian opportunities. Crews have addressed land managers’ most pressing maintenance issues on federal, state and local lands. These improvements have led to more safe and accessible recreation opportunities and have reduced the environmental impacts of trail usage.

Further, by completing crucial trail work, young people were taught the technical skills and stewardship ethic necessary to maintain our trail system now and in the future. Federal, state, and local land managers have highly valued the opportunity to involve the next generation in leveraging volunteer support for trails.

During the grant period (November 1, 2019 - October 31, 2021), WTA’s Statewide Youth Volunteer Trail Maintenance project engaged hundreds of youth to complete 11,527 hours of trail maintenance on 54 miles of hiking trails in Washington (these numbers were slightly lower than proposed due to Covid-related cancellations and impacts). WTA youth volunteers built rock steps, maintained 17 bridges, improved over 290 feet of boardwalk and uncovered lost sections of trail, in addition to performing routine maintenance such as brushing, drainage improvement and tread work. While youth crews worked on many projects throughout the grant period, some highlights include:

  • On the Twin Sisters Lake trail in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, a youth crew spent a week repairing 318’ of tread, clearing and improving 18 drains, removing 3 downed trees and brushing 30’ of the trail corridor.
  • On Mount Rainier National Park’s Wonderland trail, a shared-identity LGBTQ+ youth crew built two approaches to a log bridge and brushed 425’ of trail.
  • On the Gold Creek trail in King County, WTA hosted several day work parties for youth and family groups, focusing on cleaning and building drains, improving tread, and improving a puncheon.
  • A youth volunteer group spent a week in Olympic National Park improving 1.75 miles of drainage on the East Fork Quinault River trail, and brushing .25 miles on the Graves Creek trail.
  • WTA’s Leadership and Inclusion crew spent two weeks at Deception State Park, tackling both annual and deferred maintenance needs on several trails. The crew completed a turnpike on the Tursi trail, chiseled steps in various locations, decommissioned 4 social trails and installed a new 40’ puncheon on the Goose Rock Summit Trail and installed a culvert and a 30’ turnpike on the Ranger Station trail.

These maintenance projects addressed critical issues on federal, state and local lands across Washington. Through this work, youth crews have removed hazards from trails, stabilized trails that would have continued to erode into unsafe conditions, and improved drainage to decrease impact to surrounding vegetation, thus creating safer and more accessible trail experiences for trail users. This is essential to enhance outdoor recreation opportunities and enjoyment of public lands.

Community Benefits
Youth-specific trail maintenance trips offer an accessible introduction to environmental stewardship. These are immersive experiences that allow young people to learn new skills, develop as leaders and engage in stewardship in a welcoming environment tailored to their needs and skill levels. This is critical to the future of trails, as positive youth experiences in the outdoors are a key indicator of adult engagement with recreation, land stewardship and environmental advocacy.

As part of our youth trail maintenance program, we are committed to reducing barriers to participation for youth with historically marginalized identities, and diversifying program participation by race, ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic status. To do this, WTA hosted shared identity youth work parties (e.g. all- girls, LGBTQ+) and partnered with organizations on community-specific volunteer opportunities. These affinity spaces create inclusive and safe opportunities to engage in stewardship, ensuring everyone feels welcomed and represented on trails.

Further, since WTA’s volunteer trail maintenance capabilities were limited due to Covid-related restrictions during this project, WTA saw a significant need to expand our program in creative ways. In response, WTA developed the Emerging Leaders program, a professional trail crew for young adults, as a pilot program. This 20-week program offered paid positions for young people from communities historically underrepresented in the outdoors, such as Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) and LGBTQ+. The program provided hands-on trail maintenance experience, leadership development and career training. The Emerging Leaders crew conducted critical trail maintenance in the frontcountry and the backcountry that would not have otherwise been possible to complete with our pandemic-limited volunteer crews. Since the success of the pilot, this program has continued to grow and serve more young adults in Washington. The program is now entering its fourth year.

More winners of this award

2021: Griffith Peak Trail Rebuild

2020: Trailhead and Trail Construction in the Shawnee National Forest

2020: Thurston Hills Natural Area Trail Project

2019: Pole Mountain Trails

2018: McPhee Overlook Trail - Colorado

2017: Mountains-to-Sea State Trail/Fonta Flora State Trail Connector - North Carolina

2016: Gypsum City Off-Highway Vehicle Park - Iowa

2015: Montana OHV Trail Maintenance - Montana