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January + February 2010 » Washington Trails

Youth and Families » The Lasting Impacts of Volunteering

Hundreds of youth have joined WTA’s trail maintenance work parties across the state, giving back to the hiking community. Time spent on trail gives youth new skills and confidence, while showing them what a difference they can make. Whether teens join Washington Trails Association on trail for a day or a week, their experiences as volunteers can change their lives. Here are the stories from two such volunteers.

Margaret Ullman

Taylor Summers

Referred to WTA by a friend, Margaret Ull- man started volunteering during her senior year of high school. After her first trail work experi- ence, she found herself mud-covered but thirsty for more. Before heading off to college, she volunteered five more times. While crosscutting a fallen tree, she thought, “I really like this!”

While studying Environmental Studies and Sociology at Whitman, Ullman volunteered during breaks and interned for WTA during summer to gain trail expertise, as well as lead- ership experience and volunteer management skills. After graduating, Ullman became WTA’s summer chief crew lead for the Skykomish Ranger District and “learned how to properly manage a project from start to finish and how to make sure it is a fulfilling experience for everyone involved.” As she explains, “It’s like a dance, you have to be able to think on your feet and problem-solve to keep everyone engaged. At the end of the day, you want the crew to leave feeling great about the work that was completed.”

While a high-school sophomore, Taylor Sum- mers found WTA through a family member and had never experienced anything quite like it. He recalls, “I've never laughed so hard. My stomach hurt from laughing for a week straight." That laughter happened on a Youth Volunteer Vacation at Wallace Falls State Park. Summers joined the crew knowing no one, but he gained new friends and an increased inter- est for trails and the outdoors.

Summers remembers thinking, “It would be cool to be an orange hat [assistant crew leader], but I didn’t know how to get that job.” Sum- mers continued volunteering over the years, gaining confidence and learning new skills by joining day trips and Backcountry Response Teams. In 2009, Summers participated on sev- eral volunteer vacations as an orange hat. By interning for WTA, Summers met other volun- teers and learned about their lives, their world travels, and their hikes in amazing places. “It’s inspiring,” admits Summers.

Ullman still dons a WTA hard hat occasion- ally, but she is now the volunteer programs coordinator for Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, a job she landed by utilizing skills she gained through WTA. Ullman notes, “It was a big asset professionally for me to come from a great organization that is recognized for the work that it does.”

Both Ullman and Summers made a decision to try something new and found satisfaction in WTA’s trail maintenance program. Their fond recollections show not only how volunteering helps to create amazing people, but also how a small decision to give back can have lasting impacts on one’s future. t

WTA at Work

Youth Volunteer Vacations

If you are a high- school student age fourteen to eighteen and want to be outside this summer, WTA’s Youth Volun- teer Vacations could be just what you are looking for. Spend a week having fun outside, camping and volunteering in a safe, fun and team- oriented environ- ment. Choose from several stunning locations, meet new people, and earn up to 40 community service hours.

If you are new to trail work, WTA offers frontcountry trips, where you can learn all about the world of building and maintaining hiking trails. For youth with previous trail main- tenance experience seeking a wilderness setting, try a back- country trip.

On February 1, the trip schedule will be posted for viewing on www.wta.org. Sign ups will launch Monday, February 8. Trips do go fast. Don’t delay.

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