The Metropolitan Park District of the Toledo Area will be blazing new trails with its Volunteer Trail Patrol this year when the program expands into two more parks.
The Volunteer Trail Patrol program has about 65 volunteers who travel the trails at Wildwood Preserve Metropark in West Toledo and Oak Openings Preserve Metropark in Swanton. In the spring, the park system plans to add volunteers to Swan Creek Preserve Metropark in South Toledo and Pearson Metropark in Oregon.
"Some visitors, especially some of the older people, say they feel more secure in the parks with the trail patrol there," said John Flahie, trail patrol volunteer. "They know that if they have a problem, someone can help them or get help for them."
The Metroparks started the Volunteer Trail Patrol in 2003 at Wildwood and added Oak Openings Preserve last year. The park system eventually plans to have volunteers at all of its parks.
"The volunteers are eyes and ears for the rangers, but even more so, they are customer service volunteers," said Scott Carpenter, Metroparks spokesman. "They're great at answering questions about the parks."
Trail patrol volunteers walk or ride bicycles through the parks in pairs for three-hour shifts. They are trained in First Aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation skills and carry phones to contact Metroparks rangers in case of serious problems.
Sue Wilson, who is in her second year as a member of the Volunteer Trail Patrol, said her most common interactions with visitors are helping with directions or just stopping to chat. There have been a few more urgent problems that the volunteers have helped with, including a woman who lost her keys in one of the parks and a driver who accidentally started driving on an all-purpose trail.
"I want everybody to love the parks as much as I do, so if being there helps people appreciate the parks more, then I feel I'm doing something useful," Ms. Wilson said. "What I really like about the trail patrol is that it makes me feel more connected to the park."
Trail patrol volunteers, many of whom are retirees, have put in more than 3,000 hours at the parks in the past eight months.
"I love the trails and I enjoy trying to help people," said Jack Mayer, one of the busiest members of the Volunteer Trail Patrol. He volunteered more than 450 hours over the last year.
Mr. Carpenter said Metroparks officials are grateful to have such dedicated volunteers, but are hoping to recruit fresh faces this year. The Metroparks is lagging behind its goal of having 40 trail volunteers for each participating park.
Trail patrol volunteers must commit to at least 60 hours per year of patrolling.
The Metroparks will hold information sessions over the next two months for residents interested in joining the Volunteer Trail Patrol. Sessions are scheduled:
●Jan. 16 at 2 p.m. in Ward Pavilion, Wildwood Preserve Metropark, 5100 West Central Ave., Toledo.
●Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. in the Yager Center, Swan Creek Preserve Metropark, 4659 Airport Hwy., Toledo.
●Feb. 5 at 10 a.m. in the Beuhner Center, Oak Openings Preserve, 4139 Girdham Rd., Swanton.
●Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. in the Packer Hammersmith Center, Pearson Metropark, 4600 Starr Ave., Oregon.