Vienna Pedaler: Patrolling the W&OD

Our columnist features the men and women charged with keeping the W&OD safe

Maybe you’ve seen them out there on the trail; those men and women in the yellow vests proclaiming they are members of the W&OD Trail Patrol.

But who are these people, and what do they do? How did they end up doing this and why?

Well, I’m fortunate that several members of the Trail Patrol are customers of mine, and two are even seasonal employees at , so I know a bit of their stories. Let’s start though with the basics.

The Trail Patrol is sponsored by the Friends of the W&OD, a citizen group that works to support and improve the W&OD. It reports to, in an advisory capacity, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. The Patrol draws its members from all manner of trail users: cyclists, skaters, walkers, runners and horseback riders. They are expected to contribute a few hours each month, traveling the trail, being there to assist as needed.

According to the Friends of the W&OD website:

The basic responsibilities of a patrol member are:


  • to promote safe use of the Trail
  • to provide information about the Trail to the public
  • to assist Trail users when help is needed”


So, what exactly does this translate into in real life? In terms of statistics, there are officially 451 members of the Trail Patrol, 76 of whom have been actively patrolling this past year. Members have traveled, in total, anywhere from 2616.3 miles a year (in 2000) to 29,592.2 miles in 2011, making for a grand total, as of early March 2012, of 169,425 miles.

What exactly do these folks do out there? Well, from talking to the members I know, much of what is involved is simply being a presence on the trail. Most patrols are relatively uneventful, perhaps someone asks directions, or has a minor issue they need help with, like a flat tire, or a minor scrape. Sometimes Patrol members will address the behavior of trail users ... perhaps pointing out dangerous passing behavior or excessive speed. Much of the time it’s just letting people know there is help if it’s needed.

While it’s rare, sometimes the Patrol is called upon to lend assistance in a serious situation. For example, last year one of the members came upon a woman who had had a pretty serious crash on her bike, aided her in getting emergency assistance and guided her and her companion to a shop to take care of her bike. In that particular case, the woman didn’t realize how badly she was hurt, and had not the Patrol member been there, she might not have gotten the medical assistance she needed.

It’s not stated explicitly on the site, but Patrol members also write brief reports of any significant things they encounter. This helps document events that occur and allows the Patrol and the Friends of the W&OD to recognize patterns and potentially unsafe situations out there on the trail.  In addition, the Trail Patrol posts information to the W&OD Trail Report blog.

Check in there to learn about trail construction, hazardous conditions, or any other trail news you might find helpful. The Patrol operates year round, so you can even look there to see if the trail is affected by snow or ice. A very handy source of information.

So, with all these great things the Patrol does, how can it be improved? Well, they can always use new members. If you want to contribute to the greater good for the W&OD, and you can devote a few hours a month to do walk, ride, run, or otherwise travel the trail, being ready to help, then you should consider volunteering.  Head on over to the Trail Patrol page on the Friends website, and sign up.

Wien April 17, 2012 at 03:38 AM
And for those who want to do something other than paint redundant comments with a wide brush, join the Trail Patrol and actually do some good for your community. http://www.wodfriends.org/trail_patrol.html
Amelie Krikorian April 17, 2012 at 11:07 AM
It's not petty divisiveness to ask people to obey the rules of the road. Bikers assume that drivers will see them and that drivers are obeying the rules of the road, and drivers assume that bikers will obey the rules of the road. Bikers who DON'T are risking their lives; drivers, not so much, at least not when it comes to a collision on Church or Ayr Hill between a biker and a driver. I bike myself, with my kids, and I have been actually yelled at by the spandex brigade for stopping at stop signs and waiting for eye contact from drivers before taking my kids across the street. Yeah, ok, we are not the fastest bikers on the trail but is that any reason for the 35mph crowd to shoot me the finger as they fly by? And, sorry, but I will continue to teach my children to obey stop signs and the rules of the road, even if Wien believes it's divisive to promote safety.
Tim Fricker April 17, 2012 at 12:32 PM
I don't think Wien was trying to say promoting safety was divisive, rather I think he or she was trying to make the point that there is plenty of blame on all sides, and it just becomes a divisive argument to point fingers at ANY one group of trail and road users. At least that's how I see it. Cyclists such as the ones described by AK offend me as well. But so do drivers like the one I saw just the other day on Maple, cell phone in one hand, stack of papers perched on the steering wheel in the other hand, as he drove down Maple Avenue in the middle of the day. I think Wien's point was that it's very easy for us all to paint "the other" with a broad brush such as "cyclists blow stop signs" or "drivers never pay attention to driving", but it doesn't serve any of us in improving conditions and safety out there.
Amelie Krikorian April 18, 2012 at 01:26 AM
True, there are bad drivers out there. I have seen people drinking coffee AND smoking (and using a third hand to drive?) or putting on makeup, and yes the use of cell phones while driving is appalling. But none of these bad drivers seem to completely disregard the stop signs the way bikers do. I have lived in Vienna for 13 years and it's actually unusual and noteworthy when I see a biker obeying the stop signs on Church and Ayr Hill. The majority of drivers stop for those stop signs. Which isn't to say they always yield in the correct order (sometimes drivers start forward and get beeped at) but in general they do stop, while bikers very seldom do. Just today I saw a man biking up Center Street with his kid in tow in a green trailer and he did not stop or signal, but made a left turn right in front of me onto John Marshall when I was already pulling forward from my stop sign. If I had done a rolling stop (which, sadly, many drivers do) they would have both been killed because he did not stop or signal. I don't understand why you and Whine are trying to defend the actions of bad bikers when they are both giving biking a bad rep and endangering their lives. A 25 mph crash between a bad driver and another car goes to the insurance company; a 25 mph crash between a car and a bad biker sends the biker to the morgue. Bikers need to realize they are not invulnerable. It's very scary to see how reckless they are.
Anne42pt2 May 07, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Well, I don't think it's all that hard to be a polite driver, cyclist, runner, walker, rollerblader, equestrian, or whatever. It's more work to be a jerk, really. I never understood blowing through stop signs. Getting hit by a car would hurt... at the very least. (Seriously, I have never used my phone while driving. I'm probably the only person left in American who can say that. I see people texting while cycling and it boggles my mind. I couldn't do it - nor would I want to try.) Seriously, the Trail Patrol would love to have folks who use the trail frequently come join us, go out, set a good example, and do all that other stuff we do. Thank you for covering us, Tim. Appreciate it.


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