There are myriad challenges associated with working for a National Scenic or Historic Trail. But what if there was a place to workshop ideas with other trail professionals who have dealt with similar challenges? In 2017, the Volunteer Program Working Group was formed to do just that. This informal group of PNTS members gathers quarterly to highlight recent successes, dive into issues, and learn from one another. Sessions typically include a feature presentation on projects or programs by a group member followed by Q&A and discussion. Those who have participated in the Volunteer Program Working Group have space to connect with others and discuss successes and challenges on topics, such as adapting volunteer-related activities and programs in response to Covid-19, using databases and volunteer management platforms, volunteer onboarding and training best practices, and much more.
Working Group participants have found tremendous value in learning and sharing with colleagues, especially learning from organizations that offer “outside-the-box” takes on many topics. Arizona Trail Association Volunteer Program Manager Wendy Lotze regularly participates in the Volunteer Program Working Group. She points out that “…long-distance trail systems have a highly specialized set of challenges and opportunities,” and says that working with other trails professionals to solve common problems “is a tremendous relief”. Lotze says that she was “amazed at the diversity of backgrounds and expertise” in the group and that “Being able to draw knowledge and experience from each other has made the experience well worth the time invested.”
The Working Group welcomes ideas for discussion and new members to enhance exchange. This group sets its own priorities around resource and idea sharing. Benefits of sharing and discussion include learning how to approach challenges in new ways and feeling heard and understood about the challenges you face.
This flexible, online program model has inspired PNTS to launch additional forums for member exchange for other priority topics within the National Trails community. In Spring 2021, PNTS organized its first forums on trail operations and next generation program management. The most recent Trail Operations Forum included a discussion on strategies to address issues with National Trail funding and cooperative management.
PNTS Working Groups provide trail professionals with valuable opportunities for peer exchange and discussion, along with the chance to gain new understanding on common issues faced by trail organizations. Together, this opportunity to reflect and share with a group of like-minded professionals—and to find ways to avoid “reinventing the wheel”—is immeasurable.