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TKO Trail Ambassadors Have an Impactful 2023 Season

November 2, 2023

A group of Ambassador volunteers stand together smiling in front of a waterfall.

By Loren Payne

Trailkeepers of Oregon volunteer Trail Ambassadors had another impactful season engaging with trail users across Oregon!

Outdoor recreation and visitation to trails was high throughout the 2023 season, and Trail Ambassadors played a crucial role in helping visitors have safe and fun experiences in the outdoors. Thanks to the efforts of these volunteers, the number of visitor engagements doubled as compared to the 2022 season!

This increase in engagements shows not only the dedication of our awesome volunteers, but also the increasing need for information and resources at trails. Many land managers are stretched thin in staff and budget, and these public interactions can fall to the wayside in tight times. On this topic, USFS Interpretive Specialist Lily Carey says “Trail Ambassador volunteers provide a welcoming and safety forward presence at high use trailheads…The work they do throughout the Gorge helps to fill in gaps with visitor engagement and is vital to the stewardship of this beautiful area.”

A group of trail users stand around a Trail Ambassador at their table.

Trailhead Ambassadors, folks who engage with visitors before they hit the trail, are an important first contact for folks recreating at some of Oregon’s most popular hiking trails. These locations, such as Latourell Falls in the Columbia River Gorge and Mirror Lake on Mount Hood, attract thousands of out of town and first-time hikers, making the need for outreach that much more prominent. Throughout 2023’s peak hiking season, Trailhead Ambassadors engaged with almost 10,000 trail visitors – that’s more than the populations of Hood River and Cascade Locks combined! Each of these interactions represents an instance where a trail visitor was able to gain real-time, personalized information that improved their experience on the trail and encouraged stewardship of the environment. 

Three volunteer Wilderness Ambassadors stand on trail smiling in front of Mount Hood.

Wilderness Ambassadors, volunteers who engage with hikers on Wilderness trails on Mount Hood and in the Columbia River Gorge, are a resource for folks in designated wilderness areas and also play a critical role in helping to prevent human-caused wildfires and environmental degradation. Many Ambassadors report removing pounds of trash from trails and putting out still-smoldering abandoned campfires, including at Burnt Lake where campfires are prohibited year-round due to the sensitivity of the surrounding environment. On his role as a TKO Wilderness Ambassador Mentor Josh A. says “I enjoy having the opportunity to engage with trail users and help them understand the importance of Leave No Trace principles…if in 100 years, the only evidence of us being out here is this thin strip of dirt that we’re standing on, we did something right.” So far this year, these dedicated folks engaged with over 1,300 wilderness hikers! Each of these contacts brings us closer to Josh’s vision and contributes to a safe and enjoyable trail experience for everyone.

TKO’s Trail Ambassador program would not be such a success without our amazing volunteers and partners. We would like to thank Travel Oregon, the Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge Regional Tourism Alliance, the Oregon Coast Visitors Association, the U.S. Forest Service, Oregon State Parks, The Nature Conservancy, and Friends of the Columbia Gorge for their support of this program. Together we can make every trail user a trail steward!

If you love Oregon’s trails and enjoy interacting with fellow outdoor enthusiasts, we would love to have you on the Ambassador team! Learn more about the Trail Ambassador program here and reach out to loren.payne@trailkeepersoforegon.org with any questions.

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