National Scenic and Historic Trails Training Needs Assessment

Survey of skills and competencies to assist in developing a national training strategy for National Scenic and Historic Trails

by Elvin Clapp, Project Manager, Bureau of Land Management

Purpose of Assessment: Develop Information for a National Training Strategy

Federal and organizational leaders are developing a national training strategy for National Scenic and Historic Trails (NSHT). Their goal is to preserve skills that have been developed over decades as well as teaching the newest technology. Top quality and readily accessible training will help all of us perform to the best of our abilities.

This report presents the survey findings from 232 respondents who ranked 77 trails tasks by importance, time spent, and their skill levels. These federal, state, and organizational members also provided valuable information on the types of training delivery methods they prefer, and how they would like to be notified of training opportunities in future.

Among the most important findings are:

  • There is a large gap between the average skill level and the desired proficiency for many of the tasks, thus indicating a significant training need for many areas.
  • Many of the respondents do not spend a significant amount of their time working on NSHT. This may be due to NSHT being a collateral duty for trail leaders.
  • The largest number of training needs are in the area of Program Administration.
  • The fewest number of training needs were in Tread and Facility Design, Construction, and Maintenance.
  • While many tasks were rated as low in importance, there is clearly a significant need for training on about 20 skills on a variety of topics.
  • For training delivery, 78 percent prefer local workshops and seminars, 57 percent prefer regional or national conferences, 40 percent prefer formal classroom training, and 23 percent prefer computer based training.
  • Over 68 percent prefer a national email list as the media to be notified of future training, publications, job aids, and other trail resources.
  • Most of respondents were from the governmental sector and thus most of the data reflects this segment of the NSHT community. An Excel "pivot table" spreadsheet will enable further analysis of the demographics and skills data to identify agency-specific training needs

Executive Summary

A significant legacy of this project is a comprehensive listing 244 tasks to provide a base line for developing competencies, performance standards, position descriptions, job announcements, and project management tasks. This dynamic, living document will serve both agency and organizations supporting NSHT. Future training assessments and other surveys should use this listing to create comparative data and a more efficient and effective analysis of what we all do to support these trails.

One of the surprising findings was the low ratings for importance, frequency, and skill level for most of the 77 tasks when compared to performance standards. For both importance and their skill levels, respondents gave low ratings compared to what we have found in other agency needs assessment. Possible explanations are that staff and volunteers are spread too thinly to focus on NSHT tasks, are not aware of performance standards, or generally under value the importance of some tasks to providing quality trail experiences. The challenge is to provide outreach, training, resources, tools, better policy, and effective performance guidelines as corrective actions.

A team convened June 3-4, 2008 to develop a training strategy based on the gaps between available training and desired skill needs as identified in the report. The team identified high priority training, workshops, and reference materials relevant to meet these knowledge and skill gaps for various tasks in NSHT arena. See the Skills and Competencies list which provides Web pages for the 12 key topics including a catalogue of skills, plus links to resources, publications, and training providers.

In summary, the more we know about our needs for training, education, and other skill improvement programs, the better we can provide training and resources to narrow or eliminate the gaps in existing performance compared to desired performance. We will ultimately benefit trail users, the public at large, and the future generations who have yet to experience and appreciate these congressionally designated jewels.

Trail Issues

We included a question on the types of issues that are encountered by the respondents. When developing future training, a strategy team should consider these general topics to get a sense of major problem areas. On issues they encounter in their trails work, there is a fairly even split between the following issues (more than one issue could be selected):

  • 70 percent: Maintenance of signs, kiosks, monuments, or markers
  • 67 percent: Degradation of cultural, historic, or natural resources
  • 62 percent: Lack of good information about trail resources 62 percent: Visual impacts along trail corridor
  • 60 percent: Conflicts between users

By comparison, only 32 percent feel that overuse of trail was an issue. When asked what would do the most to improve their ability to do their work, 34 percent selected more funding and 19 percent selected more people. They seem to spend little time on the trails, yet they need more financial resources to leverage their capability to manage NSHTs.

This assessment was guided by the Federal Interagency Council on Trails pursuant to the National Trails System Act, the National Trails System Memorandum of Understanding, and Executive Order 13195. The federal trails and organization leaders provided excellent insight to the analysis and this report. We would like to thank the core team members listed in Appendix H and peer reviewers for their hard work and thorough review of various drafts of the task analysis and survey instrument. We would also like to express our appreciation to Elvin Clapp and Genie Ramsden of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as primary authors of the task analysis, survey forms, data analysis, and report preparation. Finally, we would like to thank Deb Salt of BLM for her leadership and additional financial support of the training needs assessment and strategy development.

Download the Final Report (pdf 1.0 mb)

Published December 2019

About the Author

The Bureau of Land Management in the US Dept. of the Interior sponsors many courses and workshops through a variety of training opportunities. Trails, recreation, land management, technical training, and public involvement are topics that are frequently covered. The BLM has also been a leader in establishing and developing the National Trails Training Partnership.

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