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Safety, Fun, Service – becoming a TKO Crew Leader

December 28, 2022

A close up of two faces. One person wears a blue jacket and a yellow hat, the other wears a yellow jacket and an orange hat. They both have dirt on their faces and are smiling.

Being a Crew Leader with TKO is rewarding work and comes with a fun and supportive community that can’t wait to welcome you!

by Elaine Keavney and Loren Payne

So you’ve earned your green hat, and are getting “hooked” on trail stewardship.  As you get to know your crew leaders, do you find yourself wondering whether leading a crew would be something you would enjoy? Read on for some information about leading crews, and what you need to do if you would like to become a TKO crew leader!

Being a crew leader is a rewarding volunteer experience, so if you are getting the crew leader bug, go for it! Firstly, you should plan to do five more trail parties as a green hat before beginning down the leadership path. Try to volunteer for a variety of project types – brushing, logouts, new trail construction, etc. If possible, try to volunteer with a variety of crew leaders, too, so you can get an idea of different leadership styles. This will give you a holistic view of what leading trail parties with TKO can look like and you’ll gain the technical skills to be prepared to lead at a variety of projects.

An assortment of had tools with long handles lay in a row on a concrete floor.

Attending a lot of trail parties will help you become familiar with the wide variety of trail tools in a Tool Cache

Next up is to complete three introductory training sessions that will help you understand the values and inner workings of TKO. The first is the online Trail Ambassador training, which is a set of short videos you can take on your own time. These videos go over the basics of public engagement and will provide you with a variety of skills you’ll be able to use in your leadership role. 

 After that, you will take the first of a series of DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) workshops and a TKO Leadership Lab. These trainings hone in on how to use strong leadership skills to create and lead safe, inclusive events. Often, given that all your necessary paperwork has been signed, completion of this class earns you an orange hat as an assistant crew leader (ACL)!

a person in a dark blue rain jacket wearing an orange hard hat holds a pair of pruning loppers and smiles at the camera.

Assistant Crew Leaders wear orange hats and support stewardship events by leading smaller groups of volunteers on special parts of the project as well as teaming up with the Crew Leader to make TKO events as welcoming as possible.

Once you are an ACL, you will have new responsibilities on your trail parties. You’ll take the lead on welcoming volunteers for the day, and your crew leader may ask you to work with a small group of volunteers on a project such as clearing a section of trail or improving drainage. This will give you a chance to practice your own leadership skills and establish your style.

ACL status will also give you access to some fun social and communication opportunities! Slack, a messaging app, allows you to communicate easily with other TKO crew leaders, volunteers, and the TKO staff.  You’ll also be able to join us at our monthly Crew Brew meetings (complete with a free beer from TKO when held in person)! These resources will give you the chance to familiarize yourself with the resources available to you, stay up to date on the day-to-day projects within TKO and are great opportunities to connect with your fellow volunteers.

You should plan to participate in at least two trail parties as an Assistant Crew Leader before taking the leap to full crew leadership. During that time, you can indicate your interest in becoming a Yellow Hat to TKO staff. They will point you in the right direction for next steps. If you regularly work with one or more crew leaders, you can let them know of your interest and ask them to let you take on some of the leadership roles such as the safety talk, tool talk, etc.

A group of people stand in a circle in a dirt parking lot. One person is using a large sign to teach the rest of the group about a trail maintenance topic.

Be able to guide new volunteers through the basics of tread, brushing and drainage is a core part of every Crew Leaders skills set.

Similar to the process for becoming an ACL, there is a series of trainings to complete before getting your yellow hat. These include the remaining two DEI workshops, labs for communications, Eventbrite, and incident reports, archaeology, First Aid/CPR certification, and Crew Leader School. This may sound daunting, but the trainings are designed to be digestible and time efficient and the timeline in which you take them is flexible. TKO staff are always available to help you access a training and answer any questions. 

Your work as Crew Leader will be different from your role as a green hat volunteer or even as an ACL. You are responsible for your crew; you will do the safety briefing, explain the tools that will be used and the work that will be done, keep track of the time for breaks, lunch, end of work day, etc. Believe it or not, you won’t work directly on the project most days. You’re more likely to spend your time walking between work sites, guiding volunteers in proper technique, encouraging folks to rest and hydrate, and take the time to chat with your participants to get to know them better. Your role is to make sure that event participants stay safe, have a positive experience and are able to contribute to the project in a way that works for them. 

A group of people sit in chairs and watch a slideshow under a triangle shaped wooden shelter.

Some classroom time goes into becoming a Crew Leader. Not only will you learn a lot about how to be a good leader, and how to maintain trails, but you’ll also learn a lot about yourself!

The majority of trail parties that TKO hosts are led by volunteers. These are regular folks just like you who step up to be a champion for trails and to support the people who love maintaining them. It is rewarding work and comes with a fun and supportive community that can’t wait to welcome you! Find a TKO event near you and start your path to being a crew leader today. 


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