by Sara Haxby, ATC Senior Conservation Coordinator

3 Things to Know About the VSA

Volunteer Service Agreements make it possible for you or me to give back to the Appalachian Trail. At their most basic, they are permission to do work to support the public trust resource that is one of the most world-renowned of hiking trails.

In fact, the government cannot accept or demand free labor in service of federal programs, and since the A.T. is a National Scenic Trail, that applies to Trail volunteers. Volunteer Service Agreements are the answer to the conundrum of civic service to this national treasure. As such, a volunteer agreement needs to describe what work someone does, and the agreement also helps protect volunteers in real ways.

1.Volunteer Service Descriptions: These are descriptions for the work that goes into maintaining and managing the Appalachian Trail. No one person does all things, but an individual may undertake a number of tasks outlined in the volunteer service descriptions.

Just like a first-time gardener must learn how to properly tend and harvest their crops, or an arborist will receive training on how to plant, prune, and care for trees, stewarding a footpath (often with sharp objects) relies on proper training and the right equipment. The compiled list of volunteer service descriptions for the A.T. aims to list all the ways volunteers can give back to the Trail. Because of the distributed and unique structure of volunteer management for the A.T., this all-encompassing position description relies on task assignments, training, and support of volunteers to come from people supervising volunteers locally.

2.Who’s Doing the Work: A service description without anyone signed on to accomplish the tasks is a “help wanted” advertisement. Volunteer service agreements for sponsored groups, like A.T. clubs, must include who is signed on to the agreement. The list of volunteers, provided as a roster, indicates to the federal land managing partner (either the USDA Forest Service or the National Park Service) who is signing up to help steward the Trail through this group, and in turn, who the agencies are committed to protecting as it relates to workman’s compensation and tort claims for work outlined in the agreement.

3.Where the work takes place: Generally speaking, the agreement explains where the work occurs geographically. For A.T. volunteers working on state lands, their volunteer service agreement with the National Park Service includes their activities on state lands because of the A.T.’s National Trail Status administered by the NPS.

This is a mutual agreement between groups or individuals who care to serve and the federal agencies that acknowledge and value the contributions of people to serve the Trail in its perpetual care, because without volunteers the Trail would not be where it is or what it is.