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.