Findings from National Trails Training Survey Results

Over 1,000 people involved in trails provided responses to a trails training survey that asked respondents to share their experience and ideas on effective types of training and delivery methods, as well as identifying important skills where training is needed.

by American Trails Staff

The 2011 National Trails Training Survey was developed and administered by American Trails in response to a request by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in cooperation with the National Trails Training Partnership (NTTP) and the Federal Interagency Council on Trails (FICT). Please see NOTES at the end of this document for more on the authority and agreement for this survey.


The goals were "to evaluate current trail training programs, partnerships, and training delivery and processes; to ask for input on trail training needed, quality, providers, and availability; and to initiate training improvements."

The survey questions were developed by Stuart Macdonald with reviews and comments by a wide variety of agency and organization staff. Pam Gluck, Executive Director of American Trails, created the online survey which was administered during October and November of 2011. The survey was widely publicized among the national trails community and open to anyone interested.


A total of 1,051 persons provided responses to the online survey. An additional 20 were interviewed by telephone or chose to provide written comments. While 15.7% did not select a "Category of your agency or affiliation," those who did identified themselves as:

24.1% - Regional or local trail organization
15.4% - Federal agency
14.1% - Local government
11.4% - State agency
6.0% - National trail organization
5.1% - Business/Contractor/Consultant


Overall, most respondents did not feel that lack of training is a serious problem. Only 26.3% agreed strongly or slightly that "Poor or inadequate levels of skill are a serious problem" On the other hand, there was no strong endorsement of current training. When asked whether "Existing trail-related training is adequate for your needs," over a third (37.7%) picked the middle response (neither agree nor disagree), while a quarter agreed slightly (25.1%) or disagreed slightly (25.3%).

A likely conclusion is that for most people, training is not a major issue, but the quality and availability could be improved. We did not, however, ask about satisfaction with specific types of training. It is likely that people are quite satisfied with some skill areas. The other problem is that the training may not be as widely available or taught as often as some would like. For instance, chain saw training is a clear-cut skill with a specific curriculum, but we often hear there is either a shortage of instructors or classes.

We also found that many people are hosting their own training, presumably to meet a local or agency need. On question 14, "Has your group/agency hosted or sponsored training on your own," 54.6% said yes, and 49% said they plan to host or sponsor training in the next two years. For NTTP the challenge is to get in the information channels so that we can publicize these efforts and encourage cooperation among groups and agencies who need the training.


Question 6 asked to "Rate the following topics as to whether you (or your work unit) need more or better training." In asking for comments on the survey as it was being developed, reviewers most often wanted to add more topics. We ended up with 51 specific training areas. "This survey was way too long" and "Too many questions" were among the comments we received from respondents.

This may not be the best way to ask a question with so many choices, but it did result in a useful list of the many specific types of skills that the trails community finds important.

It should be noted that the more general and obvious topics were selected by the most people. Funding and raising funds is vital to most trails, and it is a general skill across society. Other topics, such as Youth and Conservation Corps, or Chain Saw Certification, are not of general interest. However, 13 percent of respondents identified each of these skill areas as "most needed." The challenge for training providers is to decide which skills are most relevant to their constituency. The task for NTTP is to publicize the more specific and less-available training.

Looking at the Rating Average as calculated by Survey Monkey, there were several topics seen as "Most Needed" among the overall responses:

3.55 - Funding: Raising funds, events, corporate sponsorships, etc.
3.49 - Grants: Applications, budgets, reporting, documentation
3.49 - Volunteers: Developing programs and improving effectiveness
3.48 - Construction: Erosion and sediment control techniques
3.40 - Partnerships: Coordinating with multiple agencies and jurisdictions
3.39 - Partnerships: Developing and sustaining shared management, etc.
3.37 - Maintenance: Trail tread, surfaces, and facilities
3.43 - Environment: Planning trails with wildlife in mind, minimizing resource impacts, etc.
3.38 - Accessible trails: Creative design, surfaces, maintenance
3.38 - Design: Trail routing, layout, grades
3.37 - Design: Specifications and standards

The topics that were rated at the low end were either specific trail types (Snow trails, Water trails, Historic trails) or skills with limited use (Helicopter long lines, Explosives and blasting, Hazardous materials).


Question 7 asked "Do you or your work unit need more/better training for specific types of trails." By far the highest response was training NOT for a specific use: Multiple-use nonmotorized trails. In a distant second place was Equestrian/horse trails followed by Mountain biking trails.

The survey enabled respondents to identify their specific trail activity or more general interest such as "water trail." It is clear that many trail use interests also have very specific training interests which emerge more clearly in longer comments and interviews. A typical response on "specific training issues for your organization or trail activity," identified these priorities for an equestrian group:

1. How to maintain access to existing equine trails
2. How to and develop new equine trail systems and create interconnectivity between trail systems.
3. Equine trail best management practices and shared use trail etiquette


One interesting response is question 4, "How did you learn the skills you use in your trail-related work?" By far the largest response was "On the job," selected by 80.9% of all respondents. Only Volunteers were significantly lower:

93.6% - Federal
91.4% - Professional
91.2% - State Agency
69.2% - Volunteer


By far the most popular type of training was "On-the-job training with a qualified instructor" (question 8). Nearly two-thirds of respondents selected this as most effective. The top training types and delivery methods by Rating Average were:

3.52 - On-the-job training with a qualified instructor
3.40 - Field workshops and seminars
3.00 - Traveling trainers
2.69 - State/Regional symposiums and conferences
2.62 - Internship with agency or organization

Question 9 asked about combining training with actual trail work as another way to improve skills. Just over half (53.5%) have hosted training combined with trail work. An additional 32% want to know more about it.


Question 17 asked "On which of these areas should the National Trails Training Partnership focus additional attention?" The goal was to see how well current efforts by partners and supporters matched the needs of respondents. The top priorities were:

65.6% - Publicizing and promoting training opportunities
64.4% - Coordinating workshops and instructors for local host sponsorship
59.8% - Helping groups/agencies develop local training programs
55.3% - Helping States sponsor more training locally
49.5% - Expanding website resources on planning, building, and managing trails
46.1% - Identifying sources of funding/scholarships for training
35.4% - Hosting webinars on current issues

The survey seems to reinforce the continued efforts by NTTP partners in promoting specific training opportunities, as well as making training more available. The strength of the partnership is its ability to draw on the many different interests as well as skills among the groups, agencies, and volunteer-based associations. Through the cooperation and sharing of knowledge among all these partners, we may encourage a broader range of training availability. NTTP partners will continue to discuss implications of the survey for coordinating training nationwide asa well as priorities for action.


Question 18 asked "Which areas of the NTTP website ( are most helpful to you?" There was not a lot of variation in the responses, but all of them tended towards the more helpful end. The top choices were

3.78 - Articles on technical topics
3.66 - Project descriptions and examples
3.65 - Photos and galleries on trail development/management topics
3.61 - PDFs of plans, feasibility studies, and other documents

When asked "In which areas of the NTTP website would you like to see more resources" respondents also did not pick any clear priorities. For every choice, the neutral response was between 39% and 46%. The resources slightly favored for improvement mirror those identified as most helpful:

3.53 - PDFs of plans, feasibility studies, and other documents
3.50 - Articles on technical topics
3.49 - Project descriptions and examples
3.38 - Photos and galleries on trail development/management topics

We did not receive much negative response on website issues. One respondent noted "Keep up the good work. Best website for comprehensive information."


Those who took the survey were invited to provide additional open-ended comments. Some picked out specific training providers or workshops as being most valuable. Others provided suggestions on types of training or concerns about available training.

"If we could combine resources of federal, state & local governments with the private sector to provide more training sessions in the field where the practical applications and techniques would be shown and then practiced by volunteers, recreation technicians and other natural resource professionals I think we all could benefit..." -- USFS recreation staff, NC

"If we could train teachers to train others at the colleges, this would be huge for our region." -- Planning consultant, KY

"Helping organizations set up their own training structure the way it fits them the best to me would be the most effective, and cost effective way. If you have a traveling trainer have them help set up programs, not teach the programs." -- Trail association volunteer, MO

"Webinars would be great! My managers don't mind my spending the time to get educated on trails, they are just leery of anything that involves the travel celing." -- BLM ranger

"Any training that gets people out in the field to see the trails or work on them is worthwhile." -- Greenway planner, GA

"A few trained leaders to pass on knowledge to trail crews during actual construction is very effective." -- Trail association stewardship chair, WA

"The college-level programs really need to be explored. This has been sorely lacking at the college level in natural resource programs." -- NPS trails specialist, AK


Many comments were very specific to a local issue or trail-related concern. Others provided a good snapshot of the bigger issues facing the trails community:

"I believe project management and volunteer management are very important to most agencies that manage natural surface trail systems." -- Natural resources manager, CO

"How can scenic and historic trails can be more alike and historic trails can begin to pursue development of retracement trails? Few national historic trails have any "trail" associated with them. Whats wrong with that picture and how can it be addressed?" -- NPS landscape architect

"We need training on designing cost-effective multi-use non-motorized trails. We need to do a better job of reducing costs of building trails, given the economic climate." -- Community planner, MD

"We are building great trails; the biggest issues we have is getting the organization on a long term sustainable course; i.e., consistent funding for paid staff." -- Mountain bike club president, VT

"Lots of people like to build trail, but don't learn the basics of planning and design; we get left with trail projects that aren't meeting requirements and aren't good for visitors... We are trying to operate best we can with the help of volunteers, though skills vary and training is not easy to acquire. Any means to help train and therefore help manage volunteers would assist us in keeping trails open." -- National Recreation Area staff, PA

"There needs to be national trail design standards. The lack of trails knowledge is appalling - people in [my state] are building new trails of terrible design." State park planner

"Much is made of the physical building and maintenance, but not that its in and operating, what do you do with it? Events, publicity, outreach ideas, trail towns, etc to keep community interest and support." -- Trails project manager, PA

"Suggest Distance learning programs for CEU credits, combined with on-site instruction with traveling trainer." -- Consultant and equestrian advocate, AZ


The National Trails Training Survey was conducted by American Trails as part of Cooperative Agreement No. DTFH61-11-H-00020, the “National Trails Training” Project, with the Federal Highway Administration, Recreational Trails Program.

Acknowledgement: “This material is based upon work supported by the Federal Highway Administration under Agreement No. DTFH61-11-H-00020.”

Disclaimer: “Any opinions, finding, 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.”

The OMB control number for the data collection for this survey was 2125-0590.

For more information:
Contact American Trails, P.O. Box 491797, Redding, CA 96049-1797
Telephone: (530) 547-2060
E-mail: [email protected]

Attached document published December 2011

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