Youth Ambassadors liven trail experience


Last updated 9/5/2023 at 9:20am

Photo by Bill Bartlett

Molly Greaney, a Sisters High School senior and Sisters Trails Alliance Youth Ambassador, guides a first-time trail user from Bend.

Sisters Trails Alliance (STA) is the recipient of a $45,000 grant from The Oregon Trails Fund (OTF), a Travel Oregon program, developed and funded in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, that aims to bolster Oregon's competitive advantage as a world-class outdoor recreation destination and provide exceptional trail experiences.

In 2023, Travel Oregon awarded $438,977 in Oregon Trails Funds to increase capacity of Oregon trail organizations to support stewardship projects (regenerate, restore, maintain, develop) on new or existing USFS trails, and/or provide volunteer and trail ambassador programming to help provide enjoyable trail experiences for a diversity of visitors and recreation users.

Funds are sourced from USFS and Travel Oregon's Destination Development team and are separate from Travel Oregon's Competitive Grant Program. The Central Oregon region received $80,209 of funding and STA was awarded over half.

The grant covers staff capacity - a new position that will recruit, train, and manage a robust cadre of volunteers who perform trail work and oversee an STA Youth Ambassador program; 6-10 students trained, and compensated, to educate trail users about sustainable recreation, environmental trail stewardship, and reducing user-impact and multi-user conflict. And funds may be used for volunteer tools and supplies.

"The grant was received close to the start of the peak season for users so there wasn't much time to ramp up and roll out the program," STA Executive Director Scott Penzarella told The Nugget. "It's two years of funding so we will have more Ambassadors trained and available next year."

Six youths are engaged at the present time and perform their tasks primarily on the weekends and some Fridays when trail usage is at its highest. It's an equal mix of boys and girls of high school age. They work in pairs - a buddy system - and are at once identifiable by their STA t-shirts and clipboards.

They also carry purposely visible dog poop buckets with lids and scoop up a considerable amount of canine waste left by carless trail users. The buckets are intended to draw attention to the growing amount of dog feces left on or near the busy trails.

The Ambassadors are trained not only in dispensing information about trail etiquette and giving directions but in the STA mission to protect and preserve the outdoor experience through the stewardship of multi-user, non-motorized trails and their adjacent wild places.

"The Ambassadors are deeply committed to inspire a world of trail users to preserve nature through recreation," Penzarella said.

Assana Bowen-Woods from Providence, Rhode Island traveled to Sisters to be an Ambassador. She talks about her experience: "Sisters is an amazing place to explore all kinds of recreation and the beautiful trails that surround the town. On just about any morning, working our rounds, we encounter many cyclists, horseback riders, runners, and other recreationalists, learning what each of these different groups of people have in common, in addition to sharing important Leave No Trace principles."

Bowen-Woods and the others, clipboards in hand, cheerfully engage or are engaged on the trails, and if appropriate record a survey with the user. The collected data helps STA understand user experiences from which they can refine their trail management.

The Ambassadors are under the wing of Gillian Pinciaro, STA's other paid staff person, who serves as volunteer and events coordinator. The OTF grant helps fund her position.


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