The Impact of Our Volunteers, in the Field and Online

June 30, 2020
Olivia Sohn, Volunteer Engagement Assistant
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference

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The Impact of Our Volunteers, in the Field and Online
Volunteer and Corps members building trail in Ramapo Reservation on National Trails Day. Photo Credit: Popular Mechanics

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In 2019, Trail Conference volunteers and Corps members dedicated an incredible 102,952 hours of service to achieving our mission.

They came together to build bridges, remove invasive species, assemble maps, and guide trail users—all to provide access to the beautiful lands that our original volunteers and founders strove to protect a century ago.

While we saw a slight decrease in some of our trail service hours due to some smaller programming, we saw big increases in the following areas:

  • Ecological Stewardship and Invasives Strike Force volunteers dedicated 2,603 more hours in 2019 (6,512) than in 2018 (3,909) in the protection of our ecosystems.
  • The inception of the Ashokan Rail Trail Steward program helped to greatly increase volunteer trail steward hours from 72 in 2018 to 1,694 in 2019. This program is run in partnership with the Woodstock Land Conservancy and Ulster County.
  • Committee time climbed 2,055 hours from 2018 (3,046) to 2019 (5,101).

It may be easiest to see the passion of our volunteers when they are able to be in the field, gather in person, and work together on these vital projects. In 2020, however, our volunteers have been showing their dedication in a different, but still meaningful way.

Respondents to the Trail Conference’s most recent volunteer satisfaction survey indicated a desire for more trainings from the organization. With volunteer activity suspended due to COVID-19, we used this “downtime” as an opportunity to engage and train both current and new volunteers digitally. More than two dozen online webinars were held from the beginning of April through mid-June.

We saw a tremendous response to our online content. Even without the allure of nature’s beauty surrounding them, our volunteers showed up to participate in trainings ranging from trail maintenance and invasive species surveying, to general outdoor education, such as wilderness navigation.

Through their participation, our volunteers have been keeping the spirit of the trails alive during the pandemic—a positive outcome in a really difficult time. We have placed more than 120 new volunteers (65 invasive surveyors and 55 trail maintainers or corridor monitors) in assigned roles, with more people receiving their field assignments each week.

Of course, nearly three months lost in the field has resulted in a backlog of work, and your help is still needed. Many more volunteer assignments need to be filled as our volunteer leaders and program staff continue to reassess what needs to be accomplished this year to adequately care for trails and parks this season. 

To find out where volunteers are needed most and discover the right opportunity for you, check out our volunteer page or email [email protected].

With your support, we can come back stronger than ever as we cautiously and optimistically return to the field.

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