various people at work on a trail

What I’ve learnt from being a trail crew boss - Pete Warden

Once upon a time - pre COVID-19 - we had a large turnout for a volunteer trail maintenance day I was organizing, with 28 people. It was exhausting but fun, and we ended up getting a lot of the Guadalasca trail fixed up. It also got me thinking about the lessons I’ve learnt over the last few years of being a crew leader. Some of them came from the classroom training I received from Frank Padilla and Kurt Loheit, but most of what I know is from watching experienced leaders. I’ve learnt under some great bosses like Frank, Kurt, Rich Pinder, Hans Keifer, Jerry Mitcham, Ron Webster, and too many others to mention here.

You’re there to make decisions. People want to know what they should do, there’s no need to feel bad about telling them what you want. They usually don’t want to know the detailed reasoning behind it, but be ready to briefly explain if they do. Be confident, but give time to any objections. Act as if you’re right, but listen like you’re wrong.

Everyone’s there to have fun. Everybody on the crew is a volunteer, there because they choose to be. You’re a leader because they consent to being lead, and you’ve essentially no power over them. You can’t dock their pay or threaten to fire them, the only tools you have are praise, persuasion and self-confidence. Luckily, pretty much by definition every volunteer is self-motivated, so those will take you a long way.

The Sandwich Principle. This is Frank’s phrase, and something that I’ve never seen anyone use as skillfully as Rich Pinder. If you’re going to correct somebody, sandwich it in-between two pieces of praise. As in ‘wow, that tread is looking great! Could you try not to kill those endangered woodpeckers with your pick-ax? You’ve sure shaped that drain nicely’. Sounds corny, but it really seems to change people’s behavior without leaving them feeling like they’re being pushed around.

Be prepared. I forgot to bring along my flags when I rode the trail to scout out the work in preparation for last week. This meant that I was reduced to verbally describing a section about a mile up the trail that I wanted a group of experienced volunteers to walk ahead and tackle. Unfortunately my description wasn’t good enough, and they hiked past it and ended up with a gruelling uphill climb. That was my responsibility, as a leader it’s impossible to organize that many people and plan at the same time. That makes it vital to have a plan both thought-out and well-marked for people to follow before the event.

Surround yourself with good people. Even though there were 28 volunteers, many who’d never done trailwork before, I was able to cope because several of them were SMMTC or CORBA regulars with plenty of experience under their belt. I split people into 5 groups each with an experienced leader, showed them their work sites and what I was hoping to get done at each, and then was able to leave the details to them. I was still busy answering plenty of questions and giving further directions, but the supervisors took on the bulk of the individual management.

Your main job is help others work, not do the work yourself. When you’re experienced, it’s hard to stand back and watch someone else struggling without wanting to step in and take over. The trouble is, there’s almost certainly someone who needs direction who you’re neglecting while you do that, and the person you’re taking over from would learn a lot more if you train them and let them do it rather than just watching you. If you’re lucky, you’ll reach a point where everyone’s working away and you can sneak in a drain or two yourself, but your most important contribution is to get everyone else doing the right tasks safely and effectively.

Thanks again to all the volunteers who made it out to Guadalasca, we got some great work done - it really was a fantastic day!

Pete worked with us for several years before moving on. Learnt vs learned - Pete is originally from across the pond.

What do you see in this image?

As you work your way down the above list, we start with a generic description, through common names and finally down to scientific names. Similarly, the more you know about these subjects, the vocabulary describing these subjects becomes more precise and dense - mostly filled with latinized terms assigned to each distinctive and identifiable part. Each step of the way, the process of observation distills specifics and eventually yields more definitive information.

Common Example of Botanical Description. Fruit: berry, (1−)2−4(−5)-seeded, spheric, (5−)6−8 mm, yellow-orange to deep purple or cherry red, with persistent crownlike calyx 0.3−0.4 mm long; pulp juicy, yellow-orange. Seed: slightly domed and like a turtle shell, circular to ovate in outline, 3–3.8 × 2.2−3.2 mm, light cinnamon to golden brown and sometimes reddish dotted, ± cordlike on margin, forming rim 0.7−1 mm thick, the rim well-defined on ± concave side and weakly defined on convex side, faces minutely bumpy.

Even for those who are not Botanists or Entomologists, the image presents considerable amounts of information that is both fascinating and useful. The insect’s eye is a great place to begin. I will make the assumption that you know as much about the anatomy of a dragon fly as I did before taking a deeper look. The hexagonal shape in the middle of the eye is a reflection of the sun! The eye is comprised of thousands of eyes - scientists call them ommatidium - these are akin to pixels in a display. With this species, red indicates high resolution eyes that point in one direction and the remaining eyes in blue/gray/yellow have limited ability to resolve an image but are useful in providing information in multiple directions. With 30,000 of these packed into a very small area, the dragonfly can make flight decisions quickly and accurately. If you have four independent wings and can fly backwards and forwards, it is nice to have such powerful visual abilities.

The colors in the nearly transparent wings were caused by the flash I used to take this image. The image was not taken in the dark but a somewhat clever manipulation of flash and exposure provided just enough light to capture the image but not the background at 10AM. What else can we learn from this image? I am certain there is a lot more - if we just look and learn from our observations.

Panoramic image of Santa Monica Mountains