Guest Post by Rob Cain (a.k.a. SLF)
The subject of volunteer requirements, specifically trail work, has been a hot topic on Conduct The Juices over the last few years. Recall the first WS synchroblog from January 2009 where Craig argued that while volunteerism is a good thing, making it mandatory denigrates the contributions we make and calls to question the authenticity of our efforts. He suggested that instead of requirements, we need leaders and opportunities and with those, ultrarunners will be more than willing to help. While I admire his idealism, my experience is mixed.
I am a co-race director of the SOB 50K in Oregon, and president of our local trails organization which has six to eight workdays a year. Our typical turn out is six to seven of us. All but one or two are the same people every time. Only two to three are trail runners. The rest are hikers or bikers. We email around 300 people, including 100 trail runners. Year after year, we see the same turnout, the same result. The singular time we have any increased turnout is when the work is specifically for the race course, and we get over twenty people (most of which have entered the race) to help improve the trail (or in the case in the last two years, remove snow–grrr).
The Forest Service notices even this little amount of service we provide and it has strengthened our relationship. We had little difficulty getting approval for an alternate route within three weeks of the race. We’re in the process of getting some new trails approved through the local Ranger. And, we’ve got new races approved due to our relationship. They appreciate our work and our dedication. I only wish we could do more. I feel our relationship could be stronger with more maintenance hours spent by our group. Especially in light of the significantly reduced budget they’re working under.
I was down at Angeles Crest recently and heard how the volunteer efforts are appreciated. The race director is quite proud of the thousand hours his group has spent improving the course. Without those hours, it is doubtful the race would be held at all. Issues from a Wilderness Area, threatened or endangered species, to fire damage are all reasons not to approve the permit, yet it was approved. The reason is the work.
As race directors, we’ve been looking for possible solutions to our dilemma. We’re now in the enviable position of selling out our race(s) in about a month. Our longest race is a 50k so we can’t go against the grain and require work. So we had this idea. What if we guarantee anyone who works at least one of our routine work parties a space even if we’re full. If we would accept 300 in our race, we would still make sure any person who worked would be allowed in, even if it meant more than 300 in our race. Not exactly a service requirement, but certainly a benefit if you help us with trail maintenance. It is an either/or situation. You can register routinely and not have to work, or you can work and guarantee yourself a spot. Clearly we’re catering to local runners.
A variation of this might work for Western States. What about letting in the person with the most hours of trail maintenance for the year? How about a lottery for those that show up for a trail workday? If they are serious about getting people to work, there are further incentives they could use to bolster turnout. BTW, I’m totally fine with the service requirement.