Volunteer Leadership Academy

This is a flagship training for A.T. volunteers that convenes volunteer leaders, and aspiring leaders, from all 14 states to deepen their work with this essential public resource.

Traditionally held in person, but adapted to an online format in the wake of COVID-19, trainings available to volunteer leaders are designed to focus on operational best-practices for volunteer management, safe field operations, and fundamentals in A.T. Cooperative Management.

Supported by the NPS Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the Academy is intended for leaders within A.T. Clubs, A.T. Communities, affinity groups and key partners, or anyone else who wants to deepen their understanding of the management of the Appalachian Trail.



The aim for the Volunteer Leadership Academy is to have “tracks” of learning based on topics of interest or areas of expressed need. The online sessions will create opportunities for network capacity building by sharing knowledge, practicing skills, and through a collaborative learning environment.  The intent of this virtual academy is to translate concepts into meaningful experiences with real-world application for group leaders.

For all VLA participants, the Introduction to Cooperative Management training is encouraged as a prerequisite foundation to any other course work.

Discover Volunteer Leadership Academy Courses in each of the topic areas below. 

Engaging New People

Discover how justice, equity, diversity and inclusion fit in trail management. Learn about how to apply resources for engaging new people. Get best practices in social media and welcoming new folks.

After conducting listening sessions with club leaders, ATC looked for trends in the conversations. Outreach was the most prevalent obstacle mentioned, and one of the largest perceived challenges. Based on this need, ATC developed this track with the following sessions, at 6pm:

Modules are now available for these sessions on the Training Page’s Online Library:

JEDI: What is Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion? Duration (26:15)

JEDI: Revealing relevant history of the U.S. and A.T. for context of JEDI work Duration (31:54)

Preparing to put JEDI into Action: Step 1 Duration (52:34)

New Ways to Engage: Affinity Groups Duration (37:37)

New Ways to Engage: Next Generation Advisory Council  Duration (1:01:29)

Best Practices: Welcoming New Attendees (recorded on March 1, 2021, module available soon)

Best Practices: Social Media and Raising Public Awareness (recorded on on April 5, 2021, module available soon)

This series is primarily intended for, but not exclusively offered to A.T. Club and A.T. Community leaders.

Organizational Leadership


Based on recent listening session studies and other research, one of the most common obstacles faced by volunteer leaders in A.T. clubs are the challenges associated with operational management.

ATC worked with an organizational consultant for this series of sessions. The two-part structure allowed for everyone to access information and training on best practices for managing boards and councils. The second part of this tract supported a cohort undertaking work of greatest essential benefit to their organization’s management. Through shared experience, group accountability, and a trusted professional resource on organizational management matters, club leaders were given the opportunity to come away with concrete resources for implementation.


Organizational Leadership Best Practices
This session is a webinar with five chapters, covering best practices of organizational leadership. Resources from this session are available on the Volunteer Management page.

A module is now available for the webinar on the Training Page’s Online Library:

Organization Leadership Cohort- closed

Intended for A.T. Club leaders only. This was an exclusive opportunity for a small cohort of volunteer leaders to apply the best practices of organizational leadership to benefit their organization with a network of peer support.


A.T. Cooperative Management & Project Leadership

There are two learning pathways under this topic:

The A.T. Cooperative Management sequence occurs over three sessions. These workshops center on the fundamental understanding all volunteers and volunteer leaders within A.T. clubs should have on the essential principles of A.T. management. The 3 sessions on Cooperative Management are a pre-requisite to the Volunteer and Project Leadership sequence of courses that follow.


Volunteers with existing exposure to A.T. Cooperative Management fundamentals of the first three courses below may skip to the final three modules in the series, which will be available as self-paced online training modules soon. Volunteer and Project Leadership is intended for Trail Supervisors and A.T. Club Presidents, as well as people aspiring to those roles.


The following online courses were held the fourth Thursday of September and October 2020, and the third Thursday of January through April 2021. Modules are now available for many sessions on the Training Page’s Online Library:

Sequence 1: Cooperative Management

  • Intro to Cooperative Management (September 24) – Now available as a training module
  • Essential Agreements for Trail Management (October 22) – Now available as a training module
  • Managing Beyond Trail Maintenance: Natural Resource Priorities, Understanding Advocacy, Discovering the Wild East Network, New Partnerships and People (January 21) – Now available as a training module


Sequence 2: Volunteer and Project Management

For club leaders, managing the Trail includes volunteer and project leadership. This sequence is a deep dive into planning, on the ground and one on one management. Volunteer and Project Leadership is intended for Trail Supervisors and A.T. Club Presidents, as well as people aspiring to those roles.

  • Volunteer Management Responsibilities (February 18 – recording coming soon)
  • Field Leadership Essentials (March 18 – recording coming soon)
  • Trail Project Funding and Approvals (April 15 – recording coming soon)


FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions

What’s my time commitment?

Every workshop will last between an hour and an hour and a half. Most are scheduled for weekday evenings. Advanced reading or video viewing may be necessary in order to promote active discussion and participation during a given session.

The Engaging New People Track is 7 months and the A.T. Cooperative Management, Volunteer & Project Leadership Track is 6 months. Options may be available to register for just a sequence within a track, as is available in A.T. Cooperative Management, Volunteer and Project Leadership.

Organizational Leadership is different. The first session is 3.5 hours on a Saturday, and the subsequent cohort meetings will be determined by the members as a group.


Who is this for?

The tracks are intended for leaders (current and emerging) within A.T. Clubs, A.T. Communities, affinity groups and key partners. While designed for these audiences other volunteers with interest in the care of the A.T. are welcome to register to attend.

Any new club leaders or community should sign up for the A.T. Cooperative Management System. Volunteer and Project Management sequence is designed for field leaders and club presidents.


Who should attend?

Clubs are specifically requested to send at least one person in each category:

1.  A current or emerging club leader (a club president or soon-to-be-president, etc).

2. A field leader for the club’s A.T. management work.

The online nature of the Leadership Academy means that more participants from each club are welcome. If you know of others from within your organization who would have interest in participating, please send them here and encourage them to sign up for a track (or more!) of interest.

Will sessions be recorded if I can’t participate when a course is hosted? 

Think of each topic track as a college course, where your active participation provides the greatest benefit to you and to others.

While sessions will be recorded for schedule conflicts, please register if you can participate in real-time for at least 2/3 of the sessions for a track since.

What will I get out of this?

Towards the end of March and into late July, ATC’s Volunteer Relations Department hosted a total of 78 individual interviews with A.T. volunteers.

A few major themes from this report include a need to strengthen club operational management and outreach. Findings also suggest that there is a substantial amount of existing strengths in these same obstacles. This highlights the variety of club circumstances and the fact that there is never a one-size fits all answer. The information gathered is a benchmark to chart our collective course forward and a springboard for greater network support in the form of training and shared resources.

Focused on creating opportunities for network capacity building by sharing knowledge, practicing skills and through a collaborative learning environment, the intent of this virtual academy is translation into meaningful experiences with real-world application for group leaders.


What constitutes actionable work for cohort members?
It should be work the cohort member is inspired to do to benefit their club. They are expected to tackle something that feels important to their organization. So, one cohort member may elect to update job descriptions and/or work on a clearer succession plan for board member development. Another cohort member may elect to work on updating/revising/writing for the first time a board handbook. The idea is that cohort members select the action of focus that they feel would mean the most to them/their club, and know that they have support from fellow cohort members tackling similar issues, as well as the knowledgeable resource of the professional consultant during the cohort term.