Trails come in all varieties — from short paved stretches in a local park to rugged treks into wilderness areas. That’s what we love about them. And just as there's a diversity of trails in our state, there are many different ways to get involved in their creation, stewardship and maintenance.
But what does “getting involved” with trails even mean? Well, trails don't have a voice, but hikers do, and there are many points in a trail’s lifetime when it needs help from hikers. How you show up and shape the future of the trail system is up to you and what you're most interested in.
Building a better future of trails means stewarding our current trail system, preserving our public lands and dreaming of innovative opportunities to continue respectful exploration. So what should you do if you want to shape the future of trails? It often helps to start with a place in mind — one that's special to you. Maybe this place has beloved trails that need improvement. Or maybe it's a place that would be great for outdoor recreation, but those opportunities need to be created.
With that passion in mind, you can get started making a difference in trails in a way that will benefit hikers all across the state. If you're ready to do more for the trails you love, we've got some ways you can get started.
Planning and Engagement
Let’s start with the most direct way to get involved: a public engagement process.
Land management agencies are constantly making decisions about how to steward the spaces they oversee. When land-use decisions need to be made, the public can get involved and give feedback. Land managers know that the public, including hikers like you, are core stakeholders in the decision-making process.
Planning processes usually occur over the span of a few months. They can deal with a diversity of topics — from more technical changes, like funding for maintenance or changing a land-use classification, to projects like rerouting trails or developing new trails. For example, an environmental assessment may indicate that a trail is impacting a wetland and a land agency is looking to reroute the path to protect the habitat. Or maybe a trail system’s popularity has grown so much over the years that land managers are now considering new parking options or ways to shore up the trail to accommodate more boots on the ground. In either case, the managing agency will often look for public input.
Different ways for the public to get involved and share their input during public engagement processes are often offered too. An agency may host a series of listening sessions with small groups or listen to comments during a public hearing. Agencies will also send out surveys or create online forums to hear from the public. In some cases, land managers will reach out directly to organized stakeholder groups — like WTA — to get relevant perspectives. And some agencies even have committees or boards to call upon for regular feedback.
Starting with a place in mind is a great way to research how you can get involved when land managers are asking for feedback from the community. Here are some ways to stay updated on public engagement processes in places you love:
- Check out land managers' websites. For example, the National Park Service hosts this webpage for planning projects active in Olympic National Park.
- Sign up for relevant newsletters. King County offers many different newsletters that include updates on parks and public spaces. Many other organizations also share information about involvement opportunities to their email newsletter list.
- Join an agency board or committee. For instance, Take a look at the various councils for the Department of Natural Resources.
- Subscribe to the Trail Action Network! We collect relevant ways to get involved from across the state and send them straight to you.
WHO’S IN THE COMMUNITY?
There are, of course, plenty of opportunities to share your feedback on public lands outside of specific planning processes. WTA has developed an advocacy toolkit to help you connect with legislators over issues that matter. The toolkit also shares helpful lessons that go beyond reaching out to elected representatives. We emphasize that knowing who to talk to is key. So, when you think about getting involved outside of public comment periods, ask: What is the issue I want to raise? And who is best suited to talk to me about it?
Depending on your answer, one way to get involved may be by connecting with local groups and land managers to help with the stewardship of an area. Many recreation areas have friends associations or Facebook groups that bring communities of invested folks like you together. Take a look at the friends groups Washington State Parks works with as an example. Existing networks like these have power, as you’ll likely find people with similar interests and opinions ready to mobilize on issues.
ENGAGING WITH LAWMAKERS
If your goal is related to funding or protection for public lands, or anything that could use legislative support, an electoral audience may be your best bet. This may be a good option if you're hoping to support trails generally, without a specific place in mind. Our advocacy toolkit takes you step by step through the process of identifying your lawmakers and deciding on what method of engagement with them best serves your interest. The toolkit reviews opportunities like:
- Engaging with lawmakers through email and social media
- Participating in town halls and public meetings
- Meeting with elected officials
- Writing letters to the editor
Our elected officials are stewards of our public lands in their own right. If your approach to the future of trails requires big picture strategic investment or protection, these are the folks you’ll want to share your thoughts with.
BEYOND YOUR VOICE
Getting involved with trails can be as literal as you want it to be. While your feedback and perspective is always important to share as a hiker, there are somany other ways to support the future of trails. Trails need all kinds of advocates.
Volunteer: Across Washington, volunteers, crew members and leaders perform countless hours of trail maintenance to keep our outdoors spaces accessible and enjoyable. WTA hosts work parties all year long to connect people with trails they love. Volunteering on the trail is a great way to connect to the space better. It allows you to use your own hands to support a trail’s longevity.
Give: Donating is always a way to get involved, too. If you're a trail advocate who wants to spread your reach where trails most need it, monetary donations can help you do just that. Helping power organizations, like WTA, who work on projects that impact trails is a great way to know you are contributing to trails and the hiking community.
Sign up: At WTA, we want to support you with the tools you need to speak up for trails. That’s why we host the Trail Action Network, an email network that connects you with opportunities to engage in advocacy for trails across our state. We believe in your power to steward our trails for generations to come. Sign up to always know how to help trails.
2022 is as good a time as ever to get involved in trails, right now and to help shape them for the future. The work you do to advocate for trails soon sustains them later. In the new year, show up for the trails you love!