Each spring, before the trail melts out on the high passes or the first log of the season is cut, Pacific Northwest Trail Association staff come together for our annual crew leader training.
This year’s training was held a short distance from the Pacific Northwest Trail at Camp Ortoha, a youth camp nestled among ponderosa pines not far from the midpoint trail town of Oroville, Washington. The rustic summer camp hidden in the expansive Okanogan National Forest made for a perfect setting for training and team building exercises for the future leaders of our Performance Trail Crews.
The week-long training event was made possible in part through grant funding provided by Hydro Flask, the award-winning leader in high-performance, insulated stainless steel flasks and soft good innovations.
Parks for All Program
Late last year, Hydro Flask awarded PNTA with $20,700 in grant funding under the Parks for All Program, a “charitable grant and advocacy program which supports the development, maintenance and accessibility of public green spaces in the U.S. and beyond so people everywhere can live healthier, happier and more fulfilled lives.”
The training provided to PNTA Crew Leaders through the Parks for All Grant will help support our paid Performance Trail Crews and volunteer trail maintenance programs. “This project will greatly increase our capacity for recruiting and training our seasonal employees and volunteers,” said Jeff Kish, Executive Director for the Pacific Northwest Trail Association. “With a larger, better-trained workforce we can build and maintain more trail as well as prepare and empower individuals to continue their stewardship both locally and wherever they choose to be involved in public lands.”
Annual Crew Leader Training
This year, the organization is fortunate to see the return of crew leaders Forest Reeves and Kameron Walton, now in their fifth season with PNTA, as well as the arrival of many new faces to the organization.
A shared passion for the PNT and outdoor education has inspired young professionals from across the country to travel to the Northwest and make their mark on the Pacific Northwest Trail, which celebrates an important anniversary this year. Just a decade ago, the 1,200 mile trail became designated as one of America’s eleven national scenic trails.
With a combination of classroom trainings and field exercises, crew leaders received valuable education in trail maintenance practices and outdoor leadership theory, Leave No Trace Principles, and other important skills that ensure crew safety and benefit the Pacific Northwest Trail.
While training took place at a comfortable summer camp, life on a trail crew is far more challenging, and hinges on teamwork and an ability to perform in adverse weather conditions and unforgiving environments. Throughout the week crew leaders took turns waking before dawn to prepare group meals, spending long days working together and solving problems ranging from worksite logistics to facilitating crew bonding experiences — just as they will in the field with their youth crews this summer.
With some “hitches” lasting up to ten consecutive days, crews must be prepared for backcountry living and complete self-sufficiency. Ackerman brought over seven seasons of PNTA leadership experience to lessons that would prepare crews to live and work in wild places. Trainings included proper basecamp set-up, crew meal planning, wilderness provisioning and safe tool use. “Spike camp” safety and Leave No Trace Ethics related to food storage and preparation are particularly important principles for PNTA trail crews that work and camp in bear country, as these outdoor skills are essential to protect wildlife and crew members alike.
Ensuring crew safety is one of the primary responsibilities of a crew leader, and developing a strong culture of responsibility is a core component of our training program. Many work sites along the PNT are remote, with medical facilities located several hours away. Collins-Hill provided essential training throughout the week so that crews are prepared to habitually identify and minimize risk through job hazard analysis, and implement emergency action plans in case of an accident.
Wilderness First Aid and Responder certifications are also an essential part of Performance Trail Crew readiness and funding generously provided by Hydro Flask provided the resources to send into the field a well-prepared group of outdoors leaders.
In addition to outdoor skills, the Association’s Regional Coordinators drew on their years of experience to provide Crew Leaders with important management tools to resolve conflict and motivate crews and to empower them to work creatively to solve problems while managing trail projects. “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.
Joining us at Camp Ortoha for a day devoted to saw instruction, our perennial partners, the Back Country Horsemen of Washington, generously donated their time to teach, evaluate and certify PNTA crew leaders in both crosscut and chainsaw bucking techniques. Darrell Wallace, BCHA Chairman and Ken Elliot shared their decades of expertise, teaching the Association’s seasoned saw veterans and first-timers the ins and out of saw safety and strategy.
Beyond skills training, the week that the 2019 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.