Members of the Emerging Leaders Program smile on the beach during a group backpacking trip

Pathway to an outdoor career: Washington Trails Association's Emerging Leaders Program

Washington Trails Association guest blog: You can be a leader for the future of the outdoors

Learn all about the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) with the Washington Trails Association!

What is ELP?

ELP is a 14-week paid development program specifically designed to increase entry points to the outdoor industry for communities that have faced inequitable access to the outdoors. The goal is to support the future careers of historically underrepresented individuals in the natural-resource-stewardship and outdoor-recreation industries by providing technical trail maintenance skills and professional development opportunities.

An intentional space for people of color

Being in a space where everyone innately understands what it means to be a person of color is rare — especially in an outdoor recreation setting. The reality of racism has created barriers and inequitable access to the outdoors that has historically affected Black, Indigenous and people of color.

That's why a program like ELP is essential to building a future where different perspectives and experiences are welcome. ELP offers an opportunity for participants to not only gain applicable knowledge and skills for any career, but to also connect with part of their identity in a nourishing environment.

Members of the Emerging Leaders Program conduct field work
The 2022 ELP cohort making sure a step is level. Photo by Zachary Toliver.

Catching up with past participants

We recently chatted with three previous members of ELP to find out where they are now. Bri and Tiffany were in the 2022 cohort of ELP and Venice was a co-crew leader for the first iteration of the program in 2021. They all had varying interests in outdoor recreation and environmental restoration prior to ELP, but were desiring to build a community that focused on people of color in those fields.

Bri was in the process of completing their degree in restoration ecology and environmental inclusivity when they participated in ELP. They now work at a wildlife conservation organization in Seattle. Bri found that the most impactful part of the program was meeting other people of color who worked at similar organizations locally and nationally. By connecting with those organizations, they were able to network with the individuals to learn about their experiences in similar industries.

Venice was initially interested in the program because of their background in restoration work and the opportunity to build community within the outdoor industry. Venice now works in a trade industry with the goal to work with public facilities — like libraries and transportation systems. They recommend applying for ELP because they enjoyed their time, found a community and learned more about themselves.

Tiffany was working a seasonal position as a youth backpacking instructor when multiple friends sent her the job posting for ELP encouraging her to apply. ELP was important to her because of the camaraderie of the all person of color crew. She now works at WTA as the communications coordinator — keeping the Hiking Guide up-to-date and creating and sharing stories with the community.

The 2022 ELP cohort visiting WTA partner, Communities for a Healthy Bay, in Tacoma.
The 2022 ELP cohort visiting WTA partner, Communities for a Healthy Bay, in Tacoma.

Partnering with Washington State Parks

The 2022 state legislature approved funding for an Emerging Leaders pilot program in partnership with Washington State Parks. Planning and collaboration is underway to launch the pilot in January 2023. This program brings together new opportunities for both WTA and Washington State Parks.

"We are excited to participate in the Emerging Leaders Program,” said Parks Director Diana Dupuis. “This partnership is a demonstration of our commitment to creating systemic change by building supportive and inclusive communities. We are dedicated to creating welcoming spaces and experiences for everyone and are excited to work with the next generation of leaders.”

The 2023 ELP cohort will have opportunities to collaborate across WTA teams, engage with community partners and participate in professional development projects with Washington State Parks.

“The Commission recognized Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work as a main priority in 2022,” said Commission Chair Mark Brown. “Our efforts have just begun and we will continue to carry this priority forward for years to come. My fellow commissioners and I are excited to support the agency as they offer professional development and outdoor leadership opportunities for young individuals.”

As program planning and coordination continues this fall, WTA staff are excited to start working with a new group of cohort members and look forward to seeing how the experience and opportunities support their future endeavors in natural resources, outdoor recreation and other various career paths.

Originally published October 18, 2022

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