Trail Ambassadors Kindly Lead the Way
January 21, 2022
In 2015, GVLT, the US Forest Service, Friends of Hyalite, and the Bridger Ski Foundation formed the Trail Ambassador Program. Their goal was to provide education and resources to the community to maintain happy, healthy trails through peer-to-peer interaction. Over time, more organizations, including Bozeman Health, Run Dog Run, and Big Sky Wind Drinkers, joined in on the program’s mission to create a culture of caring around our trails.
Whether tabling at an event or simply taking a stroll, Trail Ambassadors always model positive trail etiquette. These volunteers are trained by GVLT or partner organizations to take a nonconfrontational approach to trail user education. For example, a Trail Ambassador may approach someone who hasn’t cleaned up after their pet and say, “Hey, we’re trying to keep our trails around town healthy. I noticed you don’t have a dog bag, here’s an extra one.” Another example would be to say, “You might not be aware, but foot traffic isn’t allowed on this groomed trail in the winter. Here are a few awesome nearby spots that are great for walking or running.”
Throughout the years, organizations have employed various part-time staff and interns to lead the Trail Ambassador Program. The GVLT Trails Team felt they had struck gold last year when Nell Gehrke applied to work as an AmeriCorps service member through Montana Conservation Corps’ (MCC) Conservation Intern program.
“We knew when we interviewed Nell that she was the perfect person to lead the Trail Ambassador program,” Matt Parsons, GVLT’s trails director said. “She radiates kindness and brightens the outdoors.”
Nell had a blast leading the Trail Ambassador Program in the summer of 2021. She trained 13 new Trail Ambassadors during her few months with GVLT and threw them all an end-of-summer BBQ. Nell was smitten with the program and GVLT and vowed to return as a service member the following year. GVLT recently rehired her on, this time as an AmeriCorps service member through MCC’s Big Sky Watershed Corps Program. During her new term of service, Nell will spend more time building the Trail Ambassador program across organizations.
“Healthy trails make for clean water in our greater ecosystem,” Nell said. “Whether we’re cleaning up after our pets or staying on trails to prevent damage and erosion, it all goes back to our water sources.”
Funding for Nell’s position with GVLT was provided in partnership with the US Forest Service and Run Dog Run. GVLT is excited to incorporate the Outside Kind campaign into the Trail Ambassador Program to create streamlined trail etiquette messaging across user groups and develop a recognizable brand. Nell aims to train 15 new Trail Ambassadors this year and to help other organizations get their own Trail Ambassador programs up and running.
“We’re making an effort to get our ambassadors out to lots of different trails and have as many conversations and provide as many resources and education to people as possible so everyone can make good decision outdoors,” Matt said. Learn more about the positive impact Trail Ambassadors have had over the years by clicking here to review a story map of their success.
Are you interested in being a Trail Ambassador? Trail Ambassadors set out to cultivate a culture of stewardship and kindness on Gallatin Valley’s trails, now with Outside Kind’s trail etiquette messaging as their guiding principles. They do this with tremendous grace by being a friendly face, picking up litter, reporting trail user data, and gently reminding people how to practice proper trail etiquette. Volunteers commit to at least two 1–2-hour outings per month from April through September. Trail Ambassadors are trained on a rolling basis and are invited to attend the Spring and Fall large group trainings hosted by GVLT. If this sounds like something you can get behind, contact Nell Gehrke at firstname.lastname@example.org to get set up for the 2022 season.