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The Life of a Venture Outdoors Trip Leader

By: Nancy Latimer, Venture Outdoors Trip Leader and Trip Leader Council
Venture Outdoors Trip Leaders are volunteers. WHAT? Those amazing, friendly, knowledgeable and wonderful folks leading you on hikes, bike trips, kayaking, rock climbing, nature walks, beer tastings, fishing, cross country skiing and snowshoeing are volunteers? What must that be like? For me, it’s quite an adventure, just like the Half Day Hike I recently led in North Park.Nancy Latimer
Planning – Months Ahead
My planning actually began months ago when the office contacted me about the upcoming program schedule. They know I typically like to lead a program once a month so I offer available dates and we go back and forth to schedule the program. I have the opportunity to suggest new outings I’m interested in leading or volunteering for regularly scheduled outings. After a few back and forth emails, I have my assignments for September through December to lead a couple of bike rides and hikes. Sometimes, if a leader can’t make it (we are volunteers you know!), I volunteer to lead the program myself or find other ways to assist the leaders. As the weekend approaches, I often find myself trolling the Venture Outdoors calendar to see if I want to jump in on an event. There’s always a chance to get outside with great people doing fun things!
A Week or Two to Go
Usually about a week or two before my trip, I’ll start brainstorming. I like to hike in North Park because I am familiar with the trails, but during my last program, there was a race. I decided to hike up by the pool to avoid the traffic. I seem to be cursed with big events going on at my venues and I usually have to plan some alternate route. I’ve learned to check local calendars to find out what I might run into. For example, I was leading a bike trip on the North Shore during the Color Run and a Tri-It (Bike-Hike-Kayak) at North Park during Relay for Life. If we want the Pirates to get to the World Series, just schedule me to lead something on the North Shore and I’m sure it will happen!
Since I’m hiking some new trails, I headed out to the park the Saturday before to scout out my hike. It was a dreary day and I probably wouldn’t normally have gone for a hike, but scouting forced me out and I’m glad. Lots of times my Venture Outdoors work gets me outside when I normally wouldn’t go. That’s a good thing! Anyway, I’m familiar with the trails, but I’ve always gone with someone else leading. I needed to be sure I knew the turns and intersections. The scouting trip also gives me the opportunity to check the condition of the trails, to confirm my driving directions and to ensure the port-o-johns are still there. I always like to accommodate my participants with bathrooms! I noted some unusual areas along the trails such as the Sandhill and was able to research it later.
Venture Outdoors is known for what I call factoids, so I like to study up. I lead regularly in North Park, so I already have a lot of general park factoids and the Venture Outdoors Leader Wiki site has lots of good general park information I use. There are lots of Venture Outdoors resources available to make it easy to prep for your hike, but I always enjoy a little research of my own. I then add it into my trip report for the next leader.
Week of My Trip
I email with the office to finalize the information sheet. I want to be sure my participants come as prepared and informed as possible. I confirm the list of things to bring as well as the driving directions. I can’t expect my participants to be prepared if I don’t help them! I’m also contacting my assistants to thank them in advance for their help, letting them know the route and what I need from them. Finally, I’m finishing up my research on my talking points. For my Half Day Hike, I wasn’t able to find information on the Sandhill, but I posted a question on the Friends of North Park Facebook page to see if anyone had any information for me.
Night Before my Trip
Friends of North Park came through with a link to a geology brochure on the park, so I’m set with some factoids for the Sandhill. I print out some maps to share with my group. One of my goals is always to help folks return and repeat a trip I lead. I not only want to meet Venture Outdoors’ mission of getting them outside, but I want them to continue getting outside! Anyway, sharing maps helps participants to get back out on their own. I print out my roster list so I can check off my group as they arrive or contact them if any plans change. I print and sign my risk waiver. I LOVE when people come with their risk waivers already completed. It makes check-in so much easier. I pack my backpack with my first aid kit (Did you know that Venture Outdoors leaders are required to be CPR and First Aid certified? We’re here to take care of you, you know!). I add extra water and snacks, just in case. Sunscreen, bug spray, a hat, and all the usual ‘just in case’ items are packed.
Trip Day
Well, I certainly called it. Not only was there a race around the lake, there was an event up by the pool that closed the roads. I let the police officers know that I was leading a Venture Outdoors program. I quickly texted my assistants for the change of plans and flashed my green Venture Outdoors clipboard as folks drove by. Good thing I arrived early. A few participants called me wondering where we were, but we all found each other and started on time. It was a beautiful day to be outside and I had a great group of twelve. We hiked up and down, here and there, and learned how to read the blazes and the maps. Many participants of the group plan to come back to the park again. Yay! We learned a bit of North Park history, enjoyed the Sandhill with a geology lesson, and learned about a few native plants with factoids courtesy of a knowledgeable participant. It was a picture perfect Venture Outdoors trip even with the road closed at the start.
Wrap Up
After I bid my group adieu I filled out my final trip report for Venture Outdoors online. I summarized where the hike went and how it went. Fortunately, it was an uneventful day with nothing negative to report. My route and other information are available for trip leaders in the future. I mail my paperwork into the office (Those risk waivers are very important!). Onto to my next event: a North Shore trail ride. I look forward to showing folks how to connect the riverfront trails over the bridges by bike. Hoping for good weather and not a fishing convention or something!

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