Trail Safe! video resources for trail volunteers

By Daniel Watson, National Park Service Volunteer Coordinator with the Ice Age National Scenic Trail

Greetings from the Ice Age National Scenic Trail! The colorful logo you see associated with this article is one I hope becomes very iconic for all of us in the very near future. With time, whenever a trail volunteer spots the Trail Safe! logo, it should be as familiar and commonly recognized as your trail’s blaze marker.

Allow me to explain what Trail Safe! is all about and how it ties in with the National Park Service’s “Operational Leadership” safety program.

For too many years, the National Park Service (NPS) has experienced an extremely poor employee and volunteer safety record—in fact, one of the worst accident and injury rates of among more than 130 Federal agencies. Between the years 2005 and 2010, more than 3,800 employees and volunteers of the NPS were injured on the job to the extent of missing at least one day of work.

In 2008, the NPS developed a different type of safety training program called “NPS Operational Leadership.” Operational Leadership is not the typical safety program most of us expect. It doesn’t focus on things such as proper handling of specific tools. Instead, it focuses on the human factor of safety. Situational awareness, stress and performance, and effective leadership are just a few of the topics explored. In other words, Operational Leadership adds a behavioral component to our existing safety policies and procedures. Completion of Operational Leadership training is mandatory for all NPS employees, and the course involves two full days of classroom learning facilitated by certified instructors.

Personally, I was so motivated by what I learned in my Operational Leadership training as a student that I went on to become certified as a facilitator. However, throughout my time as a student and as a facilitator, I constantly grappled with the question of how to share NPS Operational Leadership with the thousands of volunteers who build, maintain, and nurture our long distance trails.

A screenshot from the introductory video of Trail Safe! presented by Daniel Watson, left, NPS Volunteer Coordinator with the Ice Age NST.

Sixteen-hour classroom sessions were not logistically possible. Out of this challenge, Trail Safe! was born. Trail Safe! is a series of eight video lessons that cover all of the core learning objectives found in NPS Operational Leadership. Trail Safe! is something that every trail volunteer can access, without the scheduling nightmares or costly travel for everyone to attend. If you have a home computer, a tablet device, or a smartphone, you can participate in Trail Safe! As long as you can access the internet, you can play the Trail Safe! video series at your convenience.

While the Trail Safe! series does reference the National Park Service, the learning points apply equally to any agency or organization. And nowhere in Trail Safe! do we mention any specific trail—it’s just all about trails and trail volunteers. The main production was done on nothing more than an iPhone and a laptop. If enough people start using it and we document the participation, perhaps funding could be justified for some refilming in the future.

Each of the videos run in various lengths from 18 to 40 minutes. The introductory lesson is followed by seven lessons where we have more fun with various movie and TV clips that help illustrate learning objectives. Because there is no in-person classroom facilitation happening, you can binge-watch the entire series in about three hours. Watch it alone or with some of your fellow volunteers and staff members. Small groups can generate discussion on how particular learning points may be important along your chosen stretch of trail. It’s up to you … be creative and have fun with it! When Ice Age NST volunteers verify with me (via email) that they have completed all eight lessons, they’ll be mailed a Trail Safe! pin and other job aids.

Trail Safe! is undergoing some updates to bring it into Section 508 compliance with closed captioning and audio description features. I will soon be offering a Trail Safe! “starter kit” to National Trails System (NTS) managers who may be interested in providing it on a trail-by-trail basis for their staff and volunteers. I’ll ask for a point of contact to share materials with and also ask that each trail track basic user statistics.

Thank you in advance for not only participating in Trail Safe!, but also for being a safety ambassador by helping spread the word and encouraging others to participate as well! I’ll be in touch as soon as we can export the updated versions to interested trails throughout the NTS.

Trail Safe! Accomplishments

• Won the 2017 NPS Midwest Region “Achieving Relevance in Interpretation—Safety, Health & Wellness” Award.
• Largely factored into the Ice Age NST winning the 2016 NPS Midwest Region George and Helen Hartzog Award for “Outstanding Park Volunteer Program.”
• Used by the Washington Office Operational Leadership Program Manager as a training tool for new Operational Leadership Facilitator training courses.
• Offered to all NPS employees (approved by the Washington Office Operational Leadership Program Manager) as a refresher course for Operational Leadership for all parks across the NPS.

How to access Trail Safe!

Visit and scroll down the main page to click on the Trail Safe! logo for all eight video lessons.

Questions or comments?


Unless otherwise indicated, all material in Pathways Across America is public domain. All views expressed herein are perspectives of individuals working on behalf of the National Trails System and do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the Federal agencies.