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Frequently Asked Questions about Volunteer Vacations

Frequently asked questions about Washington Trails Association's volunteer vacations.

WHAT IS A VOLUNTEER VACATION?

WTA’s Volunteer Vacations are overnight work parties. Trips are eight days in length with fine cookingfun folks and a meaningful project.

What are the benefits of volunteering with WTA?

Work parties are a great way to get some exercise outdoors while enjoying the company of fellow volunteers. At the end of the day you can see how much you’ve accomplished and feel good about improving a wonderful resource for others to enjoy well into the future. We do also give you swag

WHO CAN REGISTER FOR A VOLUNTEER VACATION?

WTA welcomes anyone interested in doing trail work; however, due to the nature of these trips there are some specific requirements to ensure that everyone has a safe trip. Here's what it takes to do a Volunteer Vacation:

  • The physical condition to be active for about 7 hours a day on uneven terrain
  • Participation in the full length of the trip; arriving late or leaving early is not allowed
  • Weather appropriate camping gear and trail work gear; WTA provides training, tools and great food
  • Prior backpacking experience is recommended unless the trip is a car camp
  • At least one daylong work party's experience is recommended
  • The ability to work on a team
  • Flexibility: Weather and land manager priorities can change the project last minute
  • Minimum age is 18
  • In 2021, we're also making adjustments to our processes in order to be in compliance with COVID-19 protocols. Volunteers must agree to abide by WTA's COVID-19 protocols to join a Volunteer Vacation.

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Volunteers get a chance to work together on a project for several days in a row on volunteer vacations. Photo by JT Hart. 

HOW DO I REGISTER?

In 2021, registration opens on Saturday, February 13th, at 10:00 a.m. Registration for trips from July to October will open on April 23rd at 6:00 p.m.

  • Create or access your My Backpack account. For more info about My Backpack, check out these FAQs.
  • Complete your Backcountry and Medical forms. To find these go to your My Backpack account, click on “My work Parties” then look under “Crew Leader Corner” on the right.
    Pro tip: Do the above in advance of registration day.
  • Find the trip you want and click “Join Work Party,” fill out registration form and you’re all signed up!
  • Still have questions? Contact us at volunteer@wta.org or 206.625.1367.

THE TRIP I REALLY WANT TO GO ON IS FULL. IS THERE A WAITLIST?

Yes! Any trip that is accepting volunteers for a waitlist will be indicated as “Full - Join Waitlist.” Hit the “Join Waitlist” button and complete the registration form to be added. We'll email you if a spot opens up.

How is WTA running these work parties while COVID-19 is still a concern?

Since late spring of 2020, WTA has had a series of protocols in place so we can get our work done safely. This year, we're happy to report we feel confident in running frontcountry volunteer vacations using these precautions, too.

How many people are on a trip?

Crew size varies depending on the number of sign-ups and the project location, but a typical crew size is around 12 people including the crew leader. This is due to Forest Service wilderness regulations capping group size at 12.

In 2021 our crew sizes will depend on what our COVID safety protocols determine. Most crews will likely be smaller than 12.

How much does it cost?

In 2021, volunteer vacation fees are:

  • WTA members: $250
  • Non-members: $300. Non-members will also receive a complimentary one-year membership to WTA.

Your trip fee helps cover a portion of our field staffing, food, equipment and transportation. Grants, government agreements and donations from WTA members provide the rest of the funding needed for each volunteer vacation.

WHAT IS YOUR CANCELLATION POLICY?

Please cancel as soon as you know you will be unable to participate in the trip. You can cancel from the My Work Parties page of your My Backpack account, or you can notify us at volunteer@wta.org or 206.625.1367. There is a cancellation fee for cancellations more than 30 days prior to the trip, as described below. There is no refund for cancellations within 30 days of the trip.

  • If you paid the WTA member fee of $250, there is a $30 cancellation fee for cancellations more than 30 days prior to the trip, and no refund for cancellations within 30 days of the trip.
  • If you paid the WTA non-member fee of $300, there is a $70 cancellation fee for cancellations more than 30 days prior to the trip, and no refund for cancellations within 30 days of the trip. You will retain your one-year membership to WTA.

Can my group of friends and I join together?

You can register up to one additional person with you when signing up for a trip. However, they must have a My Backpack account with completed backcountry experience and medical history forms before you register.

Can I Join Multiple Volunteer Vacations?

In 2021, we ask that you only register for one volunteer vacation. Because we have reduced capacity on each work party, we want to ensure anyone who is interested in experiencing a volunteer vacation has the opportunity to do so.

Please only register for work parties you are confident you can participate in. Remember that you must be able to stay for the full trip; no late arrivals or early departures are permitted.

I don’t know anyone on my crew. Are people friendly?

Yes! People are what make WTA the great organization that it is. WTA work parties foster a friendly and social atmosphere where you will get to know the people you are working alongside.

How hard is a volunteer vacation?

Volunteer vacations range in difficulty depending on the location of the basecamp and the work site. Each trip description indicates whether camp is accessible by vehicle or whether volunteers must hike into a basecamp. It also describes the expected daily hike to the work site.

Most trips that involve hiking into a basecamp require you to carry your own camping and personal gear; all food and tools will be provided and packed in for you.

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The best part is that sometimes your hike to the worksite or camp can look like this. Photo by Nate Schmidt.

In 2021, all our volunteer vacations will be frontcountry and will not require a hike to basecamp.

A day's trail work can be physically demanding if you are not accustomed to it. We encourage you to join us on a day work party to see if you would enjoy this type of work for a full week. If you have a health condition that might be aggravated by physical exertion and cannot be controlled at a safe level while in the field, a volunteer vacation is probably not the right fit for you.

What do past participants have to say about volunteer vacations?

Past participants come away from a Volunteer Vacation with lasting memories and new friendships. The best review is the fact that many volunteers return for Volunteer Vacations year after year. Read a volunteer's account of her first volunteer vacation, or get a sense of one of these trips from this 15-year veteran volunteer.

This sounds too hard for me but I still want to do trail work. Do you offer another option?

Volunteers are always welcome to join a day work party. Or if you’d rather have a short overnight experience, keep an eye out a weekend work party.

How can I get in shape for a Volunteer Vacation?

Read our tips for physical conditioning and where to find a trail to get started.  It’s also a good idea to come out to some one-day work parties to get practice doing trail work.

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You'll work and camp near gorgeous sights like this on a volunteer vacation. Photo from WTA archives. 

It’s been a while since I went camping. How can I brush up on my skills?

Read our Backpacking 101 tips and check out our Trail Smarts page for a crash course in backcountry travel. You might also try an overnight trip to test your gear and get reacquainted with Leave No Trace practices. 

WHAT SHOULD I BRING?

Volunteers must provide their own camping and personal gear. All food and tools will be provided and packed in for you. You may already have your own preferred packing list, but please make sure it includes the items on our Volunteer Vacation packing list.

What does WTA provide?

WTA provides all the tools and hardhats needed to do the work safely and effectively. We also plan the project and where the crew will camp. On a volunteer vacation all food is provided and packed in by WTA, along with a cooking tent, cooking supplies and a water filtration system. It is up to volunteers to bring their own camping and hiking gear as well as the proper attire for trail work.

I want to join but I don’t have any gear. what can I do?

A good option is renting gear, or borrowing from your friends and neighbors. You could also buy used gear. Just be sure to test everything before the trip and know how to use it. 

WHAT KIND OF PROJECT WILL I BE WORKING ON?

Volunteer Vacations tackle a range of trail maintenance projects. Each trip description indicates the type of work that is planned. Whatever the project, you’ll be amazed at what you and your fellow volunteers accomplish by the end of the week! Check out WTA’s Trail Work Guide for an introduction to basic trail maintenance concepts.

WHAT IS A TYPICAL WEEK LIKE?

Before your trip begins, participants will receive information about where and when to meet up on the first day. On the first day of the trip, you'll make your way to camp and set up everything. Each day will consist of camp chores, crew meals, and trail work. Everyone is expected to help with camp chores, including cooking and cleaning up before and after meals. On the last day you will do some trail work, break down camp and hike out.

WHAT IS A TYPICAL WORK DAY LIKE?

  • 6:30 – Rise and shine, eat breakfast, pack lunches and get ready for the day.
  • 8:00 – Leave for the work site.
  • 8:30-9:00 – Begin work on the project, taking periodic breaks.
  • Noon – Break for lunch
  • Afternoon- Continue trail work, stopping periodically for breaks.
  • 3:00 – End work, head back to camp and unwind before dinner.
  • 5:00 – Start preparing dinner.
  • 6:00 - Dinner is served.
  • After dinner – Clean up camp and relax before bed.

How do I get to the trailhead?

Each volunteer is responsible for getting themselves to the meet-up location. On certain trips the crew may need to caravan from the meet-up location to the trailhead. Participants will be notified of all these details in advance of the start day.

If COVID protocols allow it, when you register you can indicate if you would like to carpool. Coordinating the details of the carpool is up to you. Carpooling is not required.

Who are the leaders? And how many?

There will always be one main leader. This crew leader is also referred to as the blue hat, since their hard hat is blue. The crew leader's name can be seen from the work party trip page. If a trip says "WTA Crew Leader" on the trip page, it means that a crew leader has not yet been assigned. The number of assistant crew leads (ACLs), who will be wearing orange hats, varies, but we always try to have a good ratio of leaders to participants. Get to know who will be leading your trip.

What can I do during my free time?

The majority of each work day will be spent doing trail work with your crew, but there will be some downtime at the beginning and end of the day. It's your free time, do what you want to do (safely of course). Hike on your own or with a friend, read a book, play cards, sleep, relax, tidy up camp, watch clouds. All volunteers should let the crew leader know what they're planning to do and volunteers will be expected back at camp by a designated time. 

Will there be a toilet/option for bathing?

Most frontcountry trips will have a toilet available. In backcountry camps there is rarely a privy, so volunteers should expect to bury their waste, following Leave No Trace guidelines. If there are showers available on a particular trip, it will be mentioned in the work party description.

Will there be pack animals on the trip?

In a typical year, our partners Back Country Horsemen of Washington (BCHW) provide a huge amount of support for a lot of our Volunteer Vacations by packing in everything we need to make the week a great experience for all, including the food for all those delicious meals.

In 2021, since our volunteer vacations will be frontcountry and not require pack support, you are unlikely to see pack animals supporting our trip, but the trail you work on may be open to equestrians, in which case you may see some animals.

Remember, always ask permission before approaching one of these animals and follow proper trail etiquette for determining who has right-of-way.

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A group of volunteers works on the Deep Lake trail in 2020. Photo by Owen Vogeli. 

WHAT IS THE FOOD LIKE?

WTA provides all the food on a Volunteer Vacation, and there is no shortage of delicious options on the menu. Breakfast and dinner will be prepared and eaten in camp. Volunteers will prepare their own lunches from an array of options in the morning and pack them out to the work site. Increased hygiene protocols are being observed so we can continue to offer this food under COVID-19 considerations.

CAN YOU ACCOMMODATE FOOD ALLERGIES AND/OR SPECIAL REQUESTS?

Yes, if we are notified in advance we are able to accommodate most dietary requirements. Please be sure to indicate your food allergies on your Medical History Form and include your dietary preferences in the comments section of the registration form.

I’m a picky eater, can I bring my own food?

All food is provided by WTA on a Volunteer Vacation and we are able to accommodate most dietary restrictions with enough notice; however, if you do decide to, you can bring your own food. If you go this route you may need to hike your food in and store it yourself. Please let us know if you plan to bring your own food.

WHAT IS THE ALCOHOL POLICY?

The consumption of alcoholic beverages is not permitted before or during the work day. Consumption of alcoholic beverages after the work day is discouraged to ensure a safe, positive experience for all volunteers and requires moderation by the user; anyone abusing this rule will be directed to leave if the conduct persists. Please be respectful of others.

WHAT IS WTA'S POLICY ON FIREARMS AND WEAPONS?

Volunteers are not allowed to bring firearms or weapons on volunteer vacations (regardless of whether they are licensed to carry a concealed weapon).

What other rules are there?

We want volunteers to feel comfortable and safe on our trips. We ask that all volunteers be respectful of everyone on the trip and contribute to a culture of caring and understanding. You can always talk with your crew leader if someone is making you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Who do I contact if I have more questions?

Email us at volunteer@wta.org or call 206.625.1367