NORTH COAST TRAIL & BEACH AMBASSADORS
The Trail Ambassador Program equips North Coast visitors with the information they need for a safe, informed, and positive experience when hiking and visiting the region. Volunteer Trail Ambassadors are placed at some of the busiest trailheads and beach accesses on the North Oregon Coast. Volunteers can table at trailheads and hike the trails on weekends during peak season. Volunteers engage with the public to answer hiking and destination-related questions, promote responsible stewardship ethics, and communicate about trail conditions, seasonal beach programming, and alternative hike information.
In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, I was tasked as project manager and volunteer coordinator of the program to recruit, train, and retain volunteers for this program.
This role started right after stay-at-home orders for the pandemic. After a bit of shifting from the original deliverable, I was tasked to continue to build this program based on the climate COVID created.
I discussed initial planning and strategy with Arica Sears, Deputy Director of the Oregon Coast Visitors Association.
To understand the evolution of this role, I acquired knowledge of the foundation of Oregon Tourism: its structure, key players, and management initiatives.
Last, I had to identify this burgeoning program's stakeholders, overall goals, strengths, and weaknesses. After establishing these factors, I would lay the groundwork for this inaugural year.
I completed a comprehensive analysis of the North Coast’s volunteer landscape, I reached out to 56 north coast organizations to inquire about how they recruit/retain volunteers and to identify the typical volunteer. During this period of outreach, I started spreading awareness about this program to these organizations.
The primary challenge I learned from this outreach is that the volunteer population is retired citizens: most of whom would be cautious about interacting with the public due to health concerns created by the pandemic. I then called and emailed schools to see if students needed volunteer hours. I could go on, but the theme of this program for this season was to forge ahead and shift directions when faced with a roadblock. Regardless, recruiting volunteers to interact with the public was going to be challenging from the onset.
During this outreach, we formed a partnership with Trailkeepers of Oregon. We set up biweekly meetings with TKO's Engagement Coordinator for support and invited other programs, including River Keepers. We learned in these meet-ups that TKO was developing online training, which we used as a model for our North Coast training.
In addition to the training resources, we combined forces to tackle volunteer onboarding through Oregon Parks and Recreation.
The partnership with TKO enabled us to create online training. It can be accessible to anyone with an internet connection, making volunteer onboarding easier to access.
Another positive aspect of collaborating with TKO is that we followed their COVID safety protocols. They had a medical and legal team assess the pandemic's best safety practices. This included having our volunteers create a safety bubble with flagging to emphasize 6-foot social distancing. In addition, volunteers had to bring their masks, chairs, and gloves to each shift. We also limited the number of volunteers to 1/site unless the other volunteer was from the same household.
We targeted three sites for this season, with a total of 848 engagements this season! As this program continues to grow, this program has a remarkable ability to influence visitor behavior.