Trailhead Ambassadors Program Brings Mindful Recreation to Busy Trails

The magnetic pull of the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest brings more visitors to trails each year, while increased connections to nature can foster community well-being, it can also place pressures on land managers and the land itself. Off-trail hiking, littering, and graffiti along the I-90 corridor add stress to wildlife and those who steward the land for all to use. The Trailhead Ambassadors Program, designed by several organizations and partners, seeks to alleviate this pressure by meeting recreationists at popular trailheads. After a delayed start in 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns, Trailhead Ambassadors met recreationists on active trails in the I-90 corridor this past summer to encourage ecological mindsets.

What Are The Goals of The Program?

The Trailhead Ambassadors Program was created in response to increased recreational use along the I-90 corridor. The mission of trailhead ambassadors is to inspire visitors to protect public lands through learning and teaching stewardship behaviors while recreating on trails.

Trailhead Ambassadors educate recreationists who may be unfamiliar with the area or with safe hiking practices. Engaging with visitors also familiarizes people with the wide array of agencies and organizations that manage and support the public lands that they use. Many people may not realize how diverse agencies are in the area, or how decisions are made regarding the management practices on these lands. Another goal is to teach environmental stewardship, such as the principles of “Leave no Trace,” so natural spaces can remain beautiful and wild. Creating this connection creates positive relationships so that land can be managed in the most beneficial way possible for all.

Meet Your 2022 Trailhead Ambassadors:

Camille Ottoman:

I am studying Natural Resources with a focus on recreation management and a minor in Horticulture at Oregon State University. I did not initially choose to study natural resources at the beginning of university. I switched between multiple majors, including Animal Sciences and Horticulture, before discovering the Natural Resources program at my school. I grew up in an Air Force family that was almost constantly moving around the country. The benefit of this was that my family visited many different State and National Parks, some of my favorites being Yellowstone, Shenandoah, and the Smokey Mountains. Being a military kid also pushed me to constantly meet new people and gain perspective on different areas and backgrounds. As a child, I had never considered that I could study and get a career working outside in areas such as these, but I am very happy that I discovered it was a possibility.
My family is from Oregon, so I am much more familiar with my home state than I am with this area in Washington. However, I am delighted that I got this opportunity to work for the Department of Natural Resources and with the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust this summer. Working alongside Jean as a fellow Trailhead Ambassador has been a great learning experience and I have gained a lot of knowledge about the Mountains to Sound Greenway and the abundant recreation opportunities here.

Jean Englehart Masseth:

Before my time as a Trailhead Ambassador, I worked for the Boeing Company for twelve years. I would hike and backpack regularly, but while working my day job, I’d wonder what I would do if I ever had the chance to make a change. I volunteered for trail clean-up and tree-planting events, but it always felt like I was utilizing the environment for personal gain more than I was giving back. I knew if the opportunity ever came, I owed it to myself to return to school and finish my degree. In 2020, I was laid off and took the opportunity to return to school and pursue a position that would take me outdoors.

I just graduated from Green River College with my A.A.S. in Forestry, Recreation Management, Water Quality, Fire Management, and Geographic Information Systems. In the fall, I will continue my education and achieve my B.A.S. in Natural Resource Management. Starting over in a new career field is challenging, but I am proud and excited to be where I am today. I have worked hard to be where I am and I feel very honored to be a Trailhead Ambassador. I get to share the knowledge I have gained from my recreational experiences and education with others.

The I-90 corridor is where my first pair of hiking boots hit the rocky trail, where I first laid my eyes on an alpine lake, and where I learned where persevering through uncomfortable moments can take you. The Poo Poo Point trail was the first time I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. After finishing, I was so proud of what I had accomplished, and it is rewarding to get to see others challenge themselves in similar ways. I enjoy meeting so many interesting and diverse people and being a resource for them if they have any questions or concerns before they venture into the wilderness. I’m also inspired by the support and kind words that Camille and I have received while tabling this summer. I walked into my position this summer not knowing what to expect. I am leaving it not disappointed. I am not sure what my career path is taking me but if you had told me two and a half years ago that I’d be working in recreation and outreach in the I-90 corridor, I would not have believed you.

2022 Trailhead Ambassadors Season Takeaways:

You may have noticed a Trailhead Ambassadors table at Little Si, Mount Si, Mount Teneriffe, the Chirico Trail, Twin Falls, and Franklin Falls this summer. These trailheads were chosen because they are some of the most popular hikes in the region and they see a large amount of use year-round.

Some of the most common questions received this summer included: what is the trail length? How difficult is this hike? How long will it take me? Where can I buy Discover Passes? Is there more parking? Who are you? What are you doing here?

Engagement usually began when people stopped at the table to check out available props, like maps and stickers. Once they were drawn in, the conversation could deepen to discover what their goals were for the day, introduce them to organizations that help maintain and build these trails like the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust and Department of Natural Resources, and encourage practices that helped to steward the lands. Several of these trails are popular among families, and it was clear that children loved the coyote skull mold displayed as well as a plush sockeye salmon. These tactics were great ways to talk about wildlife and gently introduce the ecology of the landscape to anyone interested.

Throughout the summer, even at several different trailheads, Trailhead Ambassadors saw familiar faces. At one trailhead, a person shared they were training for Mount Rainier, determined to train on local mountains. After a full loop from the Teneriffe Trailhead to the summit, down Mount Si, and back along the interconnected trail network of the Mount Si NCRA he gasped for breath and relief as he sprinted past our booth and caught his breath. We ran into him again the following week and applauded his efforts as he repeated his elevation with a slightly different route. We applauded and wished him the best of luck.

Another encounter included a group of Amazon Interns who utilized Trailhead Direct from downtown Seattle to access Little Si. They gathered around the booth asking us what we were up to and asked questions about the trail and if there was anything they should know. We explained the trail conditions, length, and difficulty, while also conversing about how their journey to the trailhead had gone. There was a lot of positive feedback regarding the Trailhead direct transit situation, and it provides an opportunity for people with limited transportation opportunities to enjoy the trails. The trailhead direct also provides a little relief to hikers on the hunt for a parking spot at popular trailheads. The group thanked us for our knowledge, graciously accepted a sticker, and continued their adventure to the top.

While there were many memorable encounters with people we spoke with this summer. My last recollection is from the Twin Falls trailhead where many families come to enjoy a beautiful walk along the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River to a majestic waterfall. We were tabling and a person approached us with their two teenage children and asked us what we were doing there. We explained who we were and our intention at the trailhead. They were so excited by what we stood for and expressed how thankful they were we were there much they love this area and want others to know and understand how they can protect and keep it pristine. They are the type of person who likes to suggest other hikers stay on the trail and “Leave No Trace”. Honestly, the ownership this person shared with me over the landscape was inspiring. Ultimately, they are the true Trailhead Ambassadors, and I am inspired and thankful to have met them.

We continue this program in hopes to inspire people to care and take pride in these natural open spaces where we recreate. Thanks to the patient recreationists who took the time to ask questions, listen, and talk to us this summer. Those people made this position something special and it was an honor to share knowledge and experiences with them!