Should Outdoor Trip Leaders have Certification?

Outdoor programs, clubs, and organizations in Georgia, have proliferated throughout the State in a big way. Their philosophies, types of offerings, and extent of commitment vary from club to club. Some are hobbiest’s, or adults who want to mingle with new people.

Because the activities of an outdoor clubs — mountaineering, backpacking, whitewater river running, canoeing, ski touring, etc. — can be potentially dangerous, the individuals organizing the trip need to be suitably qualified. But what are these qualifications and are there programs to certify that outdoor Organizers or Trip Leaders are qualified?

Currently, there is no national standardized certification program in the State of Georgia by which club members or organizations can judge the suitability of “leaders”. Currently each individual person decides those standards. Although the system has worked well so far, especially for those clubs which emphasize disclaimers, some well-meaning clubs decry serious problems.

One long-time mountaineer, Paul Petzolt, has been touring the United States talking to numerous groups about the Wilderness Education Association (WEA), his organization to certify outdoor leaders. Petzolt and proponents of certification programs argue that “certified” individuals assure club membes that potential outdoor program Trip Leaders have a set of minimum standards which will qualify them to lead groups on safe outdoor trips. The certification program, proponents claim, will produce a person with good judgment who has the wisdom to react positively in dangerous outdoor situations. It is further argued that certification programs will reduce outdoor accidents.

An “Certification” in no way makes a “Trip Leader” a good Trip Leader. It certainly doesn’t disclaim that anything bad will happen on a trip. But certification of an  individual,  no matter what that certification is, creates an atmosphere of “knowing”. You may take a CPR Class, and hopefully you would never have to use it. But it stands to reason that if you did, you would have a better than average chance of saving a life.

We encourage all outdoor enthusiasts who lead or organize a outdoor activity to have a WFA certificate. Statistics are in your favor if someone has a mishap.

July 22, 2015

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