Trail Volunteers Discuss the Future of Trail Work for Mt. Hood National Forest
Over a dozen trail maintenance volunteers representing seven organizations met at Cloud Cap Inn nestled in the upper foothills of Mt. Hood to discuss the future of trail work on the Mt. Hood National Forest—on the weekend of September 29-30. The two-day retreat was held in an effort to bring all the groups interested in trail volunteering together to brainstorm ways partnerships could be strengthened and be made more effective.
Chris Worth, Forest Supervisor for the Mt. Hood National Forest, initiated the broad, conceptual purposes of such a gathering several months before, being keenly aware of future challenges in keeping up with the many miles of developed trails the Forest is asked to maintain. “My goal was to explore a new model of trail maintenance where a lot of the stewardship and leadership would be shared between the Forest Service and the many great volunteer organizations,” Worth explained.
Malcolm Hamilton, Recreation Program Manager for the Mt. Hood National Forest planned for the retreat to be a chance for forest staff to gather issues and concerns from the people who know the trails best. “It’s vital for stakeholders to have a voice in planning the management of the public trails,” Hamilton said.
After the volunteer organizations had had a chance to discuss the challenges facing trail maintenance—reduced agency budgets, volunteer recruitment, and crew leader training—the second day was focused on solutions. Worth facilitated the brainstorming session, which focused on ways the various organizations could communicate and work with each other and the Forest Service in more of a streamlined fashion.
The session resulted in a plan to set up a shared online calendar and forum where each organization can notify others of projects going on. In this way, it is hoped that the reduced staff can coordinate with volunteer groups more as a team. There was interest in developing uniform training standards to be used throughout the trail volunteering community. “Through this common training our trail staff will know that a volunteer organization’s crew boss has the same knowledge of best practices and safety rules as a Forest Service crew boss,” said Hamilton. “Sharing not just the responsibility but also training opportunities will make our trail maintenance program much more sustainable. And that’s something from which everybody can benefit.”
Through meetings like these and other similar public engagement programs, the Mt. Hood National Forest hopes to meet the increasing demand for high quality trails while facing the reality of decreasing budgets and less Forest Service oversight. “The more we train together and communicate together the more we trust each other,” said Hamilton. “We are proposing that we let go of some of the administrative control that the Forest has traditionally maintained, and we’re leaving room for more flexibility and autonomy for volunteer groups.”