Before summer officially begins and visitors return to the remote reaches of the Pacific Northwest Trail, PNTA staff come together for our annual crew leader training event, an important preseason milestone for the Association.
The annual week-long training event was done a little differently this year. Over the past months, PNTA staff have devoted considerable resources to adapt our trail operations so that we may work safely during the Covid-19 pandemic. This year, two separate events were held to reduce the risk posed by traveling significant distances and congregating in large groups.
Over the course of the week, our crews that will be based west of the midpoint of the trail (near Oroville, Washington) met on the shores of Baker Lake to train for another season working on the Pacific Northwest Trail.
Nearly 500 trail miles to the east, Kristin Ackerman, our Regional Coordinator based in Kettle Falls, prepared her new and returning crew members for the unique season ahead.
Returning Crew Members
This year, the organization is fortunate to see the return of many seasonal staff. A shared passion for the Pacific Northwest Trail and outdoor education has inspired several experienced young professionals to return this season. The PNTA performs over 80% of our maintenance and construction on the trail corridor with youth and young adults from trailside communities and schools near the PNT.
PNTA crew leaders play a critical role in leading that effort on the ground and in mentoring the next generation of outdoor leaders. Each summer, they help train trail crews to tend trails and guide them on long backcountry hitches to service even the most remote Wilderness areas along the trail corridor.
We are pleased to welcome back crew leaders Forest Reeves, Kameron Walton, Matthew Stenger and Sean Miller and to welcome many new faces to the organization. 2019 crew members, Aubrey Smith, Nathan Mark, Kat Anderson and Slade Powers have also returned for a second year with the organization. Mark served as a member of our Mt Baker Trail Crew in 2019. This season, he will return as an Assistant Crew Leader and work with Kelly O’Neill to help manage the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie NF-based crew.
Two “1200 Milers” have also returned to the PNT to join our team of trail stewards. Both Ryan “Cappy” Stoyer and Dillon “Enigma” Dise have thru-hiked the PNT from end-to-end in recent years. This summer, they’ll help lead the effort to make on-the-ground trail improvements for future generations of long-distance hikers to enjoy.
Our trail crews are prepared to work safely on the Pacific Northwest Trail during the epidemic. This year’s training included instruction in new Covid-19 safety protocols and in pathogen PPE to protect staff and gateway communities alike.
Training to Work and Live in the Backcountry
The week-long training event held at Baker Lake was led by Sterling Collins-Hill, the Association’s Western Washington Regional Coordinator with support from our intern, Catherine “Cat” Sullivan, and our partners with the US Forest Service and Back Country Horsemen of Washington.
With some backcountry “hitches” on the PNT lasting up to ten consecutive days, our trail crews must be prepared for backcountry living and complete self-sufficiency.
“Critical to any leadership opportunity, especially one in the outdoors, is the ability to motivate our workforce while navigating the challenges that come with any group that labors, eats, camps and travels together for extended periods of time,” said Sterling Collins-Hill.
Collins-Hill brought over nine seasons of leadership experience to lessons that would prepare PNTA crews to live and work in wild places. Life on a trail crew is challenging, and hinges on teamwork and an ability to perform in adverse weather conditions and unforgiving environments.
Over the course of the week, crew members were trained to habitually identify and minimize risks through job hazard analysis, and implement emergency action plans in case of an accident or medical emergency — including the novel health and safety risks posed by working during the pandemic.
Early on in the crisis, the PNTA thoroughly researched what global health experts were reporting about the virus, and examined every element of our trail maintenance program to identify vulnerabilities and create new directives to protect our team members from spreading or contracting the virus while working in the field.
In April, we published a comprehensive Covid-19 Field Manual under a Creative Commons license so that elements of the plan could easily be shared and adopted by other trails-based organizations across the United States, so that they too, could get back to work keeping America’s trails open and safe for everyone to enjoy.
This year’s Crew Leader Training focused heavily on our new Covid-19 safety protocols, designed to protect our crew members and our gateway communities alike. Learn more about the steps we’re taking to keep our trail crews safe, here.
Saw Training and Certification
Joining us at Baker Lake for two days of saw instruction, our perennial partners, the Back Country Horsemen of Washington (BCHW), generously donated their time to teach, evaluate and certify PNTA crew leaders in both crosscut and chainsaw bucking techniques.
BCHW Saw Program Coordinators, Tom Mix and Tony Karniss shared their decades of expertise, teaching the Association’s seasoned saw veterans and first-timers the in and out of saw safety and strategy. Rob DeBoer of the Skagit Chapter also joined us for the training.
Beyond skills training, the week that the 2020 class of PNTA crew leaders spent preparing for the season ahead provided invaluable opportunities to build fellowship among the Association’s staff.
Coming together to share our passion and expertise for facilitating meaningful outdoor experiences was truly inspiring and marked the beginning of another productive, empowering and fun summer working and recreating on the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail.