A Discussion about Utah State University's Extension Trails Master Steward program

Podcast: A Discussion about Utah State University’s Extension Trails Master Steward program

Pete CodellaBusiness Elevated Podcast


Business Elevated Podcast (Episode 18)

This podcast series features business and government leaders discussing what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. This episode includes a conversation between Tara McKee, program manager with the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation, Jake Powell, extension specialist in the Department of Landscape Architecture at Utah State University and Dayton Crites, Cache County Trails and Active Transportation planner.

The Business Elevated podcast is also available on Apple PodcastsSpotify and Stitcher.



Welcome to the Business Elevated Podcast, where we discuss what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. Did you know Utah is frequently ranked the best state for business by Forbes? This podcast is a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Thanks for joining the conversation.

Jake Powell
Extension Trails Master Steward program
Dayton Crites


Tara McKee (0:20): Hi, I’m Tara McKee and I am with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. I am a program manager with the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation and we are super excited to be here at the Outdoor Recreation Summit in St. George. Today, I have with me two great guys who have done a phenomenal job introducing a brand new program within Utah State University’s Extension service, and I’m going to have them introduce themselves.

Jake Powell (0:53): Hi Tara, I’m Jake Powell. I’m an extension specialist in the Department of Landscape Architecture at Utah State University.

Dayton Crites (0:59): And my name is Dayton Crites. I work as the Cache County Trails and Active Transportation planner for Cache County, Utah. And it’s been great working with you guys on this.

Tara McKee (1:08): This has been an awesome program, and I’m going to have you introduce it, Jake.

Jake Powell (1:13): Yeah. So first of all, thank you for having us here. This is a great Summit, and we’ve had a great time. We had an opportunity to teach a workshop yesterday afternoon on this idea of a Trails Master Steward program, which is what was created by Utah State University Extension in partnership with a lot of great people from the state of Utah. The Office of Outdoor Recreation was a big player, the National Park Service, RTCA, BLM, the Forest Service and state parks. I’ve got a lot of great partners that helped shape this idea of raising the awareness and the importance of trails at the state level; and, helping build a volunteer force that’s both educated in the values of trails, the values of stewardship and some of the skills necessary to be a trail steward.

Dayton Crites (2:00): Well, and I think too, what we’re really trying to offer to Utah. I’m going to screw up our title cause I don’t have it written down in front of me, but, Master Trail Stewards course is really just filling a void that’s existed both in Utah, and really at a national level. Trail building and designing, you know it’s been, it’s beyond a cottage industry, but there’s never really been a way for somebody who says, well, I love trails, and I want to see them built more in my community, so I’m going to start a 501(C)3. But how do they get certified? How do they know enough to be taken seriously by a land manager? And typically, in the past that’s been, “oh, well spend 10 years at your nonprofit working to know people and learning as you go.” And then in 10 years, maybe your land manager will take you seriously enough to work with you closely.

We’d like to speed that up. I think it’d be beneficial for the land managers, for the nonprofits and everybody else involved. I’m really excited to see where this develops to in the coming years, to that level in offering experience for those professionals, but also as somebody who leads a lot of volunteer trail work projects. You know, Jake’s been instrumental in developing this first piece of an online course that’s video-based, that’s one hour, that anybody can take, and once you get through that, any volunteer is going to be three times as effective twice as fast. Those numbers are scientifically vetted by the way. But, we’re getting out to the trail to do work, and I think for land managers, volunteer organizers, nonprofits and anybody interested in maintaining and developing our beautiful trail networks, it’s going to be a really great, great, great thing to offer. So I’m excited to see where it goes.

Tara McKee (3:37): This is great. Jake, do you want to explain the module set-up the outline of the program, where we are now and where we hope to go?

Jake Powell (3:48): Yeah, sure. The hope was, and as Dayton mentioned, it’s a response to the needs to up the educational value and the training that our volunteers come with to a trail event. That’s one of the challenges that folks like Dayton, who are on the ground, face to get these experiences. How do we get a volunteer force that shows up ready to work with basic knowledge of skills as well as safety? What typically happens is the first few hours, perhaps, at a volunteer event is spent training our volunteers. And that’s time that isn’t spent building the trails or maintaining the trails that are so important to us. So the idea is this module be accessible to anybody with a phone or a laptop. They can get to USU Extension’s website, log into the course and take the online course, which will give them some basic knowledge and then move on as they’re more interested in other topics. They can take other modules that will be in- person as well as a hybrid with an online component as well.

Our hope is that we will move those modules throughout the state and allow USU Extension to be the convener, or the person that brings people together. We’ll work with local groups, local trails groups or a local organization that will host those areas, and bring in an expert from outside that we help facilitate. A real expert to teach about some of these courses, such as trail design and planning, trail construction and maintenance and volunteer management. And then our last module will be sort of a specialized module, and people who are interested in mountain bike trail construction specifically or rock work or equestrian trail design. Any of those specialized topics will be interested in those modules.

Tara McKee (5:39): Excellent. Dayton, do you want to talk a little bit about that online module and how trail groups might be able to use that now to educate their volunteers?

Dayton Crites (5:51): Yeah, it’s set up right now. Jake, is it in a draft form right now or are we kind of, are you ready to push this thing out, launching it far and wide? You know, I’m trying to understand kind of exactly where it sits at this point, cause I’ve seen it in its first iteration.

Jake Powell (6:05): Sure. So it is in a beta form, and this venue of the Outdoor Recreation Summit was our place to showcase that to trails professionals, and get them to give the first look. It is being tested by them. Then, we’re getting feedback from our partners, make some adjustments, and then it will be open to the wider audience probably in January of this year.

Dayton Crites (6:24): And so, for next year’s trail building season, where we really see this coming in as an extremely useful tool for anybody looking to steward their trails. If they’re going to run a volunteer day, then I will send out links for this to all my volunteers that have signed up for the volunteer day beforehand, saying “please watch this if you can.” Maybe I could even offer an incentive. I have free T-shirts for everyone that can tell me the passcode you get at the end of this course. Or something like that. But you can incentivize this, and get people to go through it. I’m really excited to go through, talk to people who’ve seen it, and then hit the trail running, so to speak, the next day, and working out through those things. I also see, we’re getting this sense that we’re going to receive a lot of traction from a lot of our larger land management partners. The U.S. Forest Service and the BLM, as they try to organize trail stewards day, National Trails Day and others. They’re always looking for a way to better educate their trail volunteers.

I’m really looking forward to sharing this and not using it just in my office, but getting it up to the Wasatch Cache National Forest volunteer coordinator and saying go, disperse, use. I think that sort of share-ability of it and use of it, and also the fact that we’re integrating not just, well here’s how you use them, a cloud to scrape out an appropriate trail grade and here’s how you think like water. We have those pieces, but we’re also talking a lot about really crucial pieces of education that are simple. Still, everyone needs to know about the impact of trails, and why a trail isn’t good just anywhere you want to go and why. Even though it’s just a scratch in the earth, a scratch in the earth traversed by 50 people a day can have a really detrimental impact on endangered species. So I think some of those educational points are going to be super useful across the board, and I hope to get it in as many partners’ hands as possible.

Tara McKee (8:13): Yeah, I think that is going to be an awesome way to really incorporate some of the values, such as the stewardship aspect. I see this being a way to educate the next generation. We have one of the fastest-growing, if not the fastest-growing, high school mountain biking league in the country. I see that as volunteers of tomorrow with these young people who are already incorporating those values of service and giving back, and especially on these trails that they use every day. I think that this can be a way, don’t you see it as something that could be used by even youth as a way to get some knowledge of what goes into making a trail so that they can be educated, and hopefully really be able to give back, but do it in a better, a more prepared way.

Dayton Crites (9:14):  Absolutely. I think it’s, there’s this recognition side of it too, for everyone that’s trying to coordinate volunteer work, or approve volunteer work on federal lands. There’s going to be this really great opportunity for a nonprofit to come forward and say, we’d like to run national trails day this year. Oh, and by the way, we’re going to ensure that all of our workers have seen this first hour of the trail stewards video, and have completed this first-hour course. That’s going to up their, the land managers comfort level with letting them go and it’s going to up the quality of the work that they get out of National Trails Day. And from that end, I’m really excited. I’m also excited with the broader scope of what we hope to be launching next year, in the series of courses where you need to go to, several multi-day courses, and pay for your certification as a Utah Master Trail Steward.

But having that, you know, for instance, my office is hiring for a trails planner right now up in Cache County and, you know, we won’t have it ready right now in this hiring cycle. But when an agency is looking to say “We want someone to look after our community trails”, they’ll look at three, four resumes and some of them will have reasonable experience, and we’ll have sort of different experience. But all of a sudden, if we can have those start popping up, that say certified as a Utah Master Trail Steward, and has gone through the entire course, that is a guarantee to any employer that this person actually brings more than your average knowledge about how to plan a trail, how to permit a trail, how to work with different agencies and how to even construct a trail. And that’s something that right now, like I said, nationally, you really have to read between the lines in someone’s resume, and really understand their background experience to understand that they have that certification.

Whereas most other industries, there lots of certifications. You can glance at four letters after someone’s name and say, oh, they’re an engineer. They understand engineering. Oh, they’re a planner, they know planning. We’d like to kind of make sure that gets to a point and formalizes with trail building that, oh well, they didn’t understand about trail design and building

Jake Powell (11:04): I think, Tara, you hit it right on the head. Is this next generation of stewards? Where do they get those values from? Where do they learn those skills from? It’s hard, and not easily accessible, to get that right now at a state level or a national level. You sort of have to find that yourself, and we tried to make this as accessible as possible. So anybody from a high school mountain bike team to, you know, a retired person that wants to get on the trail and just do some good things can go out there with a little bit more confidence both individually, as well as the organizations they support can have more confidence in their work as well.

Tara McKee (11:38): The other part that is exciting to me is, it’s economically feasible to educate them with just even the online module that you’ve created. I’m not sure how much these workshops might be, but I bet they’re going to be a fraction of the cost as it would be. What we were looking at earlier was bringing in some instructors from out-of-state, and the costs that we’re getting per-person for a course were out of our price range. I appreciate this, because I think what we can create in Utah is better quality trails, and better-maintained trails within the state of Utah. And I’m really excited. I don’t know if we mentioned this, but this is the first-of-its-kind ever to be created through an extension service. Does anybody want to discuss how that came to be? You know, how did it end up with the USU?

Jake Powell (12:41): Sure.I have an interest in trails and a background in trails so that that was a natural connection. Really, this course was a response to our partner’s needs, to people around the state, which is what USU Extension does. We’re about responding to the needs of the people in our state. And you know, folks at the Office of Outdoor Recreation approached some of our folks here at USU Extension,and said, “Is there an opportunity where we can help address this need of thousands-and-thousands of miles of trail that are being constructed or maintained, and resources that are being stretched really thin?”

Public land management agencies, our counties, our cities, they’re very interested in trails. But we are having a hard time taking care of the trails we even have. This is very much a response to that. And USU Extension seemed like a really good fit, in that, part of our role is education and this is an educational course. And so, both filling those, the need as well as providing education was a great place for Extension to step in. I think it’s a great example of leveraging different partnerships, and expertise of different organizations, people brought needs to our attention. We had the tools and the mission to provide those services. I think it’s a great example of the partnerships that can happen to surround a topic that is as important state wide as trails.

Tara McKee (14:03): Okay. Do you have anything to add to that?

Dayton Crites (14:06): No, I mean just that I’m, I think this is housed at USU Extension, and other than being alumni of Utah state, I don’t have the direct kind of call-to-action that someone like Jake, who is an educator, is involved in this program. But I’d kind of want to hold my involvement up because I really recognize this as worth part of my professional job to dedicate time to this. It will really elevate the, you know, the stewardship of trails, the education around trails, not just in my community but state wide and I’m really excited about seeing that forward.

Jake Powell (14:40): Yeah, and I think that’s important to note, Dayton, that this was not developed by USU Extension as a siloed organization. This was done, Dayton, was a huge piece of this, taking his time and effort to develop the curriculum. We ran the curriculum past a group of folks, those partners, they gave us feedback, we revised it, we brought it back again, there was very much an inner process to try and get it to the finish line with what it is now. And now it’s a developed course, but it’s very much a course that we want to be responsive to the people that we serve. That can be anybody from agencies to people like county trails planners to nonprofits that need this information. If there are opportunities that we can adjust and tweak these modules, or this online course, we’re excited to have it out there in the public so we can tweak it, and make it more malleable to the things people need to know.

Dayton Crites (15:29): Yeah, and I think that’s the really great kind of side of this course too.   You would be doing a dis-service to build a trails education course and think you know it all, and just build it in there and say, “Oh yeah, I’ve built trails, I’ve led things, we know it all is.” More of what we’re doing is drawing from really great resources. The U.S. Forest Service has put out educational handbooks; the International Mountain Bike Association has put out entire books on the topic. There are lots of resources we’re drawing from, but we’re really trying to like you say, have USU Extension, be the convener of this, bring those experts in to teach the input person portions of these courses, and then really build and adapt to have a centralized point of this education. That’s always sort of been, you had to do a lot of research to pull in from all these different sources, and now we’re offering it to the state on an online and in-person opportunity basis.

Jake Powell (16:20): Yeah, and I know, Tara, you’ve taken this course, and it is an accordion course, and the fact that someone can go through it in an hour and get the basic information. If, within the course, there are links, there are recommended readings. You can spend a day on this course, if you really wanted to watch all the videos, that are outside videos that we’ve just linked up to. If you want to go to all the websites, this is not the information that we are inventing. We are very much bringing people, bringing it in a convenient way to people, in their hands in, on their computers or on their phones.

Tara McKee (16:53): You know, that’s what I’ve really appreciated because I have been taking the time to go through those extra links and watch those videos and look over those manuals, and I really think the course can be what you want to get out of it. You can get a lot more out of it if you want to put more into it and take advantage of those resources.  Have them all in one place is going to be ideal. On another front, connected to what we’ve just discussed, are you looking for any more input as you go forward and develop these other modules? If anybody would like to become involved in, they have some professional expertise, should they be reaching out to you?

Jake Powell (17:41): Thank you for the reminder invitation. I think that’s really an important piece. This started as a partnership-driven initiative or idea, and we want it to continue as a partnership-driven idea. So, if there are people that have resources or expertise. One of the challenges we have in Utah is building trails in the mountains is different than building trails in the desert. We are going to need experts, content experts in both of those areas across the state. We have them; they’re there, they’re doing work in their communities or people like Dayton, that are doing amazing work in their communities. We want to draw on that expertise so, very much, we would like it to continue to be a collaborative effort.

I believe in that as an educator, so very much the invitation is always open at the end of the online course, my email is there, personal email, ready to accept information and feedback as well as suggestions. If there are things people want to learn or know and they have a skill they want to share with the people, Utah State Extension can be the facilitator to bring that person in front of a camera to have them host an educational event. We really wanted to be responsive to the folks that need it on the ground.

Dayton Crites (18:51): And I’ll plug that too. I will reach out to Jake, because we don’t have the 2020 classes scheduled or people assigned to teach each individual element. I know between us there’s a number of names we could think of to start building that out, but it’s not set yet. The more you know, the more connections and interest in this that you know. Jake, really sees from his desk, I think the more successful the first few years of the iteration are going to be.

Tara McKee (19:15): Well, thank you so much. It’s been such a pleasure and, we’re really excited about this. So going forward, if you’d like to get more information, reach out to Jake Powell at Utah State University’s Extension service, and we will wait to see what happens in 2020. Thank you so much. 

Dayton Crites (19:37): Thank you.

Jake Powell (19:37): Thank you, Tara.


Thanks for listening to the Business Elevated podcast, a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Listen to other episodes where you get your podcasts or at business.utah.gov.