By Pam Bond, ITA Vice President of the Board and Crew Leader

Pam Bond and other volunteers flying into the Cabin Creek airstrip to begin a week of trail maintenance.

I didn’t realize, until I sat down and gave it a good think, that education is ingrained in all that Idaho Trails Association does.  Every part of our organization’s fabric provides an opportunity for someone to learn something new.  Be it during a volunteer trail project, one of our always free presentations and webinars, while visiting our table at a local event, or as a crew leader coming across a challenging trail maintenance puzzle to solve.  Let’s dive in a bit more.

In the fall of 2017, ITA started formally giving presentations and the Trail Master Presentation program was born.  We started with in-person presentations at the Idaho Dept of Fish office and then the REI stock room in Boise. Knowing that not all of our members could join us in Boise, we started trying (‘trying’ being the operative word) to record those presentations and shared them on our YouTube channel.  Partnering with REI was a huge success!  We saw many new faces, and potential new members, at those presentations.  Like everyone, once COVID started we knew we had to pivot and started hosting webinars.  Also a great success, as the online technology allowed us to reach people from across the state and beyond! But we all know that Zoom fatigue is real and are happy to now be employing a hybrid approach – some online webinars and some in-person presentations in both North Idaho and the Boise area. A broad range of topics (many of which can be found on our YouTube channel) have been covered over the years, such as:

  • Outdoor Apps
  • Backcountry Cooking
  • Favorite Trails
  • How to Lighten Your Load
  • LNT
  • Backpacking 101 – including trips
  • Hiking with Dogs
  • Trail Runner Resources
  • Backcountry Safety
  • And more!

Volunteers on ITA’s first Backpacking 101 project!

Last year, ITA made a concerted effort to focus on the basics of backing through our Backpacking 101 series.  We hosted webinars, in-person events, AND trail projects to help those new to backpacking.  Yes, we had two projects on our schedule designed specifically to help people learn how to backpack and, of course, do some light trail work. We’ll be doing more Backpacking 101 projects and presentations this next year so stay tuned for more opportunities to learn the basics of backpacking.

And we can’t forget about the education our trail maintenance project crew leaders and volunteers receive.  Each spring, ITA staff, seasoned crew leaders, and crew leaders-in-training are invited to participate in our annual Crew Leader Education and Mentoring (CLEM) weekends.  During CLEM, we train leaders on how to effectively and safely use traditional tools and lead other volunteers.  CLEM use to be known as Crew Leader College but as a tribute to Clem Pope, a long-time supporter, wilderness advocate, and trail work master, the program was renamed to CLEM after his passing earlier this year.  You can learn more about Clem Pope and his legacy in this blog.  During projects, crew leaders pass on their knowledge to the volunteers they are leading.  Not only do they mentor the other volunteers on how to properly care for our hiking trails but also how to be a respectful visitor to our public lands. They are a wealth of knowledge and welcome new volunteers who are eager to learn.

I’ve always enjoyed mentoring, and I think that’s what has drawn me to being a crew leader.  Really, in the spirit of passing it on.  I have had a lot of great mentors who’ve had a huge impact on my self-worth.  As a crew leader, I enjoy watching volunteers (especially women) overcome their fears – fears that they aren’t strong enough or don’t have the skills to do trail work.  I think they surprise themselves, which is so awesome to see!  The word that comes to mind is empower – as a crew leader I empower others to realize their own strengths and skills while caretaking a resource we all enjoy using.

ITA President of the Board and Crew Leader Tim Martin shows volunteers how to use a crosscut saw.

This coming year, we are planning to organize our longest trail project every through our new Immersion Program.  Three weeks of backpacking and trail maintenance in the heart of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. We are still sussing out all of the details, but for those interested in an opportunity of this magnitude be prepared to be prepared!  Prior to the trip there will be regular discussions on gear, food, safety, you name it all to optimize your experience while getting a ton of work done.  Three weeks is a long time to be out in the wilderness – no electricity, no showers, no soft beds…it’s going to be challenging.  As a crew leader for this project, I am really hoping to front-load knowledge that will help the volunteers have an enjoyable and successful experience.  I want to ensure all questions have been answered and they feel good about their gear and preparing their own food for the duration.  I’m stoked!

ITA takes every opportunity to provide resources to help people explore Idaho’s hiking trails safely and respectfully.  ITA thoughtfully curates content with this in mind.  Besides our presentations, other resources can be found on our website, sprinkled into our social media, or provided at events. Looking for a good guidebook? Check out our Hiking Literature information. Need to brush up on the 10 Essentials or Leave Not Trace Ethics? We got it covered.

As more and more people choose to recreate in Idaho, educating hikers about how to safely and respectfully enjoy our trails is paramount for preserving our wild places.  Discussions about Leave No Trace principles should be frequent to ensure these resources are preserved for future hikers.

EVERY interaction our board, staff, volunteers, and members have with others is an opportunity to educate on how awesome our trails are and how they need protecting. Please help us spread the word.  And speaking of members, our 2022 Membership Drive is happening right now.  Please consider renewing or becoming a member today if you haven’t already. Your support goes directly to planning more opportunities to teach people about preserving trails and our shared public lands.

Keep an eye on our Events Page and Facebook for upcoming educational opportunities! Our full trail maintenance project schedule will be released March 1 for ITA members to sign up and March 15 for the general public.