By Dan Haag for Friends of Cape Falcon Marine Reserve
Launched as a pilot program in late summer of 2019, the Trailhead and Beach Ambassador program was developed to connect with visitors about managing North Coast natural resources safely and responsibly. Despite the obvious challenges associated with Covid-19, organizers are eager for its first full season.
The ambassador program emerged from 2019’s North Coast Destination Management studio, now the North Coast Tourism Management Network. After a test run last summer, the hope is to have volunteer ambassadors stationed at Oswald West State Park, Cape Kiwanda and Rockaway Beach on Saturdays and Sundays in 2020. With enough volunteers, the long term goal is to scale this program along the entire Oregon Coast at locations with high visitor volume and sensitive natural sites.
The program is designed as an educational opportunity for visitors with three main goals in mind: changing visitor behavior to promote public safety and the sustainability and respect of coastal natural resources; provide opportunities for locals to share their knowledge and have positive interactions with visitors; use specific messaging to continue the pre-trip communications while people are actually recreating on the coast.
As with most summer plans, Covid-19 has thrown a wrench into the 2020 launch of the Trail Ambassador program, specifically finding volunteers. Due to State Parks staffing cutbacks the need for volunteers might be greater than originally planned. Potential volunteers might feel uncomfortable being in a crowded area this summer. Safety measures are being implemented to maintain six feet of social distancing, including roping off a canopy area where volunteers can safely interact with summer crowds, and wearing face masks.
“The three areas we are based in are currently closed, which definitely makes volunteer recruitment a real challenge,” said Kyla Sjogren, Volunteer Coordinator for the program. “Most of the volunteer base in this area are retired and in high-risk health categories.”
Sjogen says younger volunteers are also welcome and can be 16-17 with guardians present at all times.
“As parks are starting to reopen, this program is needed more than ever right now,” she said. “There is a lot of enthusiasm for the program in the surrounding communities.”
The initial three areas chosen as ambassador sites were identified for their high volume of visitation during the summer months. Upon re-opening, the number of visitors could be higher than normal with so many people eager to get outdoors after a long stretch of being at home. Oswald West State Park, in particular, is a hugely popular day-use area for visitors. Friends of Cape Falcon Marine Reserve, one of the ambassador program’s leaders, recognizes the value of its implementation at this area.
“The State Parks don’t have enough rangers in a normal year, and this year they’ll be stretched even more thin due to the budget impacts of Covid-19,” said Margaret Minnick, Outreach Coordinator for Friends of Cape Falcon Marine Reserve. “Volunteer interpretive programs like this are crucial for filling that gap. The Trailhead and Beach Ambassadors program really couldn’t come at a better time, especially for very popular and often overcrowded Oswald West State Park.”
Sjogren is hopeful that locals and visitors will enjoy interacting with one another under the program.
“Tourism is so important going forward. With information and education and getting a little face-time with people will be really beneficial,” she said.
While the program had humble beginnings in 2019, organizers are eager to use the knowledge taken away from the pilot program and continue to shape it moving forward.
“The one volunteer we had at Oswald West provided us with great insight into questions that visitors have and where they come from, Minnick said.” This first year of the fully-launched program, I’m hoping that we build on the systems and structure that we piloted last year to create a well-run program that is easy for volunteers to plug in to.”
If you are interested in volunteering, contact Kyla Sjogen firstname.lastname@example.org