Managing volunteers to achieve high quality trail stewardship work for land managers is not easy. Explore the tools and resources available to you that will help you start, expand or enhance your outdoor stewardship volunteer program, achieving your goals, and providing exceptional service to land managers.
As trails and outdoor recreation gets more popular, but budgets to meet the maintenance needs of those outdoor spaces aren’t growing at the same rate, land managers and organizations are increasingly turning towards volunteers to help fill that gap. This makes volunteer stewardship more important than ever. Recently American Trails hosted a webinar on this topic with presenters Anna Zawisza of Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, Anthony Duncan of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), and Malin Ely Clyde of Nature Groupie and University of New Hampshire Extension.
According to Anna at Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, 70 – 90% of Colorado residents recreate in the outdoors on a regular basis, but less than 1% of them volunteer in the outdoors. Improving those numbers and recruiting more volunteers is key. An important step in that process is making sure that organizations have the capacity and tools to utilize those volunteers effectively with a volunteer stewardship toolkit.
At www.steppingupstewardship.org they provide tools for programs to put their volunteer goals into action through guides, training, and consulting. With guides on project planning, marketing and communication, checklists, methods, and templates, this is a wonderful resource for anyone looking to expand their stewardship toolkit. Additionally they provide consulting services that can be tailored to specific program needs, such as trail design, fundraising tactics, and collecting, tracking, and using metrics.
The IMBA Local program is another fantastic resource for building up your volunteer stewardship kit. IMBA Local is “a suite of support services and education tools to enhance the efforts of individual organizations.” This includes board training for a volunteer program coordinator, training on volunteer management, and also an array of topics and trainings outside the volunteerism realm that are designed to build up programs as a whole. IMBA also offers on the ground training for staff and volunteers to help with sustainable trail design and other important trail issues.
The organization Nature Groupies, started by Malin Ely Clyde in New Hampshire, focuses on “Empowering generations of outdoor enthusiasts to volunteer for nature in New England … because we know that a network of nature lovers can change the world.” The specific issues Nature Groupie works to solve include listening to over 200 partner organizations about their needs, how to recruit volunteers, how to engage the younger generation, how to have access to enough tools, and other volunteer issues along those lines.
Malin Ely Clyde calls the Nature Groupies website “AirBnB for volunteering in New England.” Organizations can post their volunteer needs for free, and then those who want to can volunteer and look at all the opportunities and choose the opportunities they are interested in. This resource helps encourage volunteers to sign up, and the Nature Groupie weekly email listing new opportunities has over 4,000 subscribers.
To help organizations that need access to tools their volunteers can use, Nature Groupies took a unique approach. They created the Seacoast Stewardship Tool Library in partnership with Southeast Land Trust of New Hampshire. This tool library is free to use for organizations or private land owners trying to do stewardship. Since opening in November of 2016, the library has acquired 144 different tools, and has loaned out tool packages 236 times to organizations across New England. Currently they are working to open a second tool library in northern New Hampshire.
Nature Groupies also provides training guides that are free to download on their website. As they put it, “Our Stewardship Training Guides are designed to improve the stewardship skills of volunteers and professionals. Use these guides to train volunteers or to learn best practices for yourself.”
Use this library of resources, articles, and trainings to create an army of effective trail stewards.
The Trail Challenge is a “call to action” for all of us to work together to achieve a sustainable trail system by increasing our collective capacity to care for trails and by increasing on-the-ground results through shared stewardship of trails.
Organizations working together can tackle problems and issues that are too large for single organizations to handle.
Outdoor recreation is an $887 billion industry that is, in many ways, built on the backs of volunteers.