A Conversation with a Trail Ambassador

Education // December 12, 2018

Lisa Donahue joined the volunteer Trail Ambassador corps earlier this year with a lot of enthusiasm. Since completing training, she’s hiked many trail shifts, helped at our workdays, and assisted on several guided hikes. We decided to check in with her to see how the park and program have treated her this year!

What enticed you to become a Trail Ambassador with FOW?
I’ve hiked in the Wissahickon off and on for many years.  A few years ago, I began to hike more often and explored trails and features that I did not know about, which inspired me to join FOW.  I also work full time and have an active family, all of whom volunteer in some way doing activities they enjoy. After reading about TA activities in the newsletter, I went to an information session held by the volunteer coordinator (Shawn’s predecessor) and learned about all of the different ways TAs, Crew Leaders, Structures Crew and Sawyers can support FOW and the park. For me, the best fit was to join the TAs.

What did you like best about the training sessions?
I liked hearing about the park’s features and characteristics from different perspectives – history, ecology, geology, etc.  The presentation assignment was great too — it led each of us to different parts of the park and brought a personal perspective to experiencing that feature.  Everyone sees different things and interacts with the park in a personal way, an unspoken but valuable lesson in the TA training.

What are some of your favorite volunteer activities that you’ve taken part in since becoming a Trail Ambassador?
Simply, hiking around on a shift and talking to strangers.  I embrace FOW’s “Let’s Be Friends” motto with gusto, and greet folks with “Welcome to the Wissahickon!”  I’ve met life-long locals, new transplants, tourist from other countries, and both first-time and it’s-been-a-long-time visitors.  One day in early fall, I was walking toward the Valley Green Inn to meet my shift partner, and saw four college students heading toward the trails from the parking lot.  Overhearing one say, “I want to get to the most wilderness spot today,” I thought “That’s my cue!”  I introduced myself as a TA, and welcomed them to the Wiss.  Learning they were first-time visitors, I led them to a map kiosk, and suggested some trails that would match their hopes for a terrific hike.  I have also had excellent TA shifts where I’ve hardly engaged beyond saying “hello” as I pass someone on the trail, and those are just as fulfilling to me because I’ve had time in the woods with a shift partner who shares my passion about FOW and enjoys a good hike.

How has being a volunteer enriched your life?
I am enriched by the deeper knowledge of place that I have — I know the Wissahickon Valley in greater depth than when I was just an average hiker on the Orange trail.  Being in nature is part of my mental health wellness, also.  When I’m stressed, I want to GET OUT!   Making a personal commitment to FOW and the TA’s “forces” me to be outside, and in the Wissahickon Valley, which results in a happier, healthier me.

What would you say to anyone who is considering becoming a Trail Ambassador or Crew Leader?
I’d say, “Will you please join us?”  The number one reason people volunteer is because they are asked, so here I am asking.  If you can’t decide between the two, just start with one and you will encounter the other. Another favorite TA shift experience I have is to volunteer on public work days.  I sign people in and thank them for coming, listen to Shawn share information about FOW and it’s critical role in maintaining the Valley, watch a Crew Leader explain the “circle of blood”, and then join the crew to work!  If some hikers come by and are curious about what’s going on, I engage with them about FOW. Then it’s back to digging ditches or removing invasive plants.  I support the Crew Leaders in my TA role and also participate in the restoration work. And give out snacks.  Mmmm, snacks. 

Interested in joining the FOW family? Read more about our Trail Ambassador and Crew Leader programs, and consider applying for one of them! The deadline to apply is January 18. Training begins mid-February. If you have any questions about our volunteer programs or training, come out to our Volunteer Information Session on Wednesday, January 9, or reach out to Shawn Green, Volunteer Coordinator at green@fow.org