The Power of Hikers and Trip Reports
Together, the WTA community has created a deep resource full of knowledge and enthusiasm. | By Anna Roth
Over Memorial Day weekend, we saw a real-time example of the value of trip reports. Many trails have reopened since closing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but because trails have been closed to hikers, our trip reports were two months behind true trail conditions.
So last weekend, hikers found low snow (May is still late winter in the mountains, after all), lots of trees down, and even some damaged roads. Thanks to trip reporters, we have a better idea of what to expect out there, including which trails are easy to physically distance on, information I was gratified to see included in many reports.
Trip reporters, your positivity and flexibility during the recent challenging time has helped keep hikers’ spirits up all across Washington. Thank you.
WTA has been Washington’s best source for hiking information for more than 50 years. But before it was a comprehensive online database, it was Signpost, a newsletter self-published by our founder, Louise Marshall.
Nearly half of the newsletter was trip reports — accounts of trail conditions mailed to Louise by hikers. The trip reports were popular and highlighted the value of current, local knowledge to Washington’s hiking community. As WTA grew and the internet began taking off, trip reports moved online, thanks to the help of amazing volunteer Bill Sunderland. Today, WTA’s online Hiking Guide and trip reports are the modern version of what Louise started.
For the past 6 years, I’ve had the honor of maintaining that wellspring of local knowledge, intel and personal stories.
When I started, our online Hiking Guide was already sizable, but we knew there was more to see and hear. We wanted to hear from people who hiked in local parks, on interpretive trails and on paved trails in urban spaces. Plus, we knew there were a lot more trails in Eastern Washington than the guide included.
We needed better geographic representation for Washington’s trails and a broader definition of what counted as a hike. That required more research than one person could do, so I assembled a statewide team of volunteer writers. We updated hikes and added new ones. As new hikes appeared, so did trip reports for them. Then I began to see trip reports for trails not yet on our site. This insight from locals helped me decide where I needed to focus my research.
Community input helped me add more than 500 trails to the Hiking Guide and update hundreds more — giving hikers yearning for somewhere new to explore more places to do so. And it’s not over. I continue to see new hiking suggestions every day.
By hikers, for hikers
Local knowledge has always been what sets WTA apart. Louise Marshall started Signpost because she saw the value of sharing information among hikers, and she used that enthusiasm to start a movement. Her foresight is remarkable and inspiring, and the enthusiasm she tapped into is a force that has fueled WTA’s work ever since.
Today, our hiking information statewide is much improved, and local parks are mixed in with backcountry trips when you search on wta.org. Trip reports still help hikers choose where to go, but they also inform where we do trail work. And hikers continue to be the foundation of it all; your voice helps others research their next adventure or live vicariously through you.
I love reading trip reports. You inspire me with your creative routes, up-close photos of mushrooms and trail snack suggestions. I’m astounded at how many local parks I've learned about from you. And I’m honored to have a job where I get a front seat to the energy in Washington’s hiking community. You’ve been an incredible force for more than 50 years. I can’t wait to see what your enthusiasm accomplishes next.