Thousands of friendly greetings expressed. Hundreds of expert directions given. Dozens of critical phone calls made to Forest Preserves Police. These are just some of the ways that Trail Watch volunteers have helped create positive visits for the more than 70,000 hikers, bikers and horseback riders they’ve encountered so far in 2015.
At its core, the Trail Watch program is a group of volunteers that patrol the preserves and act as extra eyes and ears for the Forest Preserves Police, reporting suspicious or illegal activity with a phone call. But it’s also so much more than that—for both volunteers and preserve visitors.
Members of the program are outfitted with a neon green t-shirt, whistle, Trail Watch ID and maps and encouraged to use the preserves as much as possible. “The Trail Watch program is a perfect volunteer opportunity for anyone because it’s an easy way to volunteer during your regular preserve visits, but it’s also a great motivator for people that don’t get outside as much as they would like,” said Joe Swano, volunteer program coordinator for the Forest Preserves.
Current volunteers love both the interactions they get to have with preserve users and the public safety service they provide. “I’ve made new friends of other horseback riders, hikers, bike riders and dog walkers. And I’ve been thanked for my service by many people who say they feel safer,” said Trail Watch volunteer Sharon Bowen. While there is very little crime in the preserves, having visible trail watch volunteers helps increase the perception of safety, which is key to getting more people out in nature and fostering a sense of community around the preserves.
Besides simply being seen, volunteers support public safety efforts by reporting suspicious activity, graffiti and maintenance or other safety issues. But one of the most satisfying duties for volunteers is lending a helping hand. “Some of my proudest moments as a Trail Watch volunteer are helping visitors find their way back to their car or just pointing them to the correct trail so they can continue their journey,” said volunteer Bobby Considine.
Joining the Trail Watch program is as simple as attending a training and visiting your favorite (or new!) preserves—and then enjoying the rewards of your service. “It’s an honor to give back to your community and to help make the forest preserves a safe and fun place to visit for everyone. If you love the outdoors, enjoy walking or cycling, or enjoy helping people learn about the preserves and wildlife, consider joining the Trail Watch program,” said volunteer Roy H.
So what are you waiting for? Learn more on the Trail Watch Page.