CEO Update: Assumptions & Actions for Reopening The Mountaineers

This week we've begun to dig into the details about what opening up might look like for The Mountaineers in the coming weeks and months. Read about our baseline assumptions and continued actions as we walk through what opening back up might look like.
Tom Vogl Tom Vogl
CEO, The Mountaineers
April 24, 2020

I'm not certain what it was about this week, but it was a tough one. The cumulative impact of the Stay Home order, limited interactions with other people, and the realization that our "new normal" will be in place for a while seems to be weighing heavily on many. And, at the same time, as we near 50,000 COVID-19 related deaths in the US, we're reminded just how horrible this disease is and how important it is that we all continue to do our part to fight its spread.

The last few months have been extraordinarily challenging. Our Mountaineers programs have been suspended for five weeks and, as Governor Inslee indicated in his new roadmap outline on April 21, it will likely be many more until full operations are able to resume. While this pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges for The Mountaineers, I continue to be inspired by the creativity, resilience, and ingenuity of our community. To honor your commitment to The Mountaineers, we’re working equally diligently to ensure the future of our organization.

Response Actions

In an update on April 1, I outlined the decisions we’d made to date and offered transparency into how we’re navigating the months ahead. We took immediate and aggressive actions to protect our community and our organization - both the physical safety and well-being of our members, volunteers, and staff as well as the financial viability of the organization. This involved difficult decisions to pull back on all non-essential expenses and included staff furloughs and layoffs. We also pursued every possible source of state and federal relief funding - programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program to provide near-term liquidity and various benefits programs for staff impacted by furloughs or layoffs.

In the convening weeks, we’ve taken a number of additional steps, to address the unprecedented challenges of this pandemic. We’ve engaged our community with virtual programs, offering people opportunities to be inspired and continue learning, even during the stay at home order. It’s inspiring to see so many folks participating and having a wonderful experience. We also hosted an online gala and virtual auction. Our donors have been incredibly generous, making pledges of more than $200,000, and we are incredibly grateful for their generosity.

These actions have given us some breathing room as we’ve addressed the immediate impacts of a near-total shutdown of operations, and we are planning for gradual re-opening this summer. Supporting our volunteer leaders and navigating the overall reopening process in a responsible, methodical manner will be our top priorities in the weeks to come.

Re-opening assumptions

This week we've begun to dig into the details about what reopening might look like for The Mountaineers in the coming weeks and months. Almost everyone agrees that re-opening is going to be a gradual process. As retailers and public lands begin to open their physical locations, we’re hopeful Books sales will pick up and we'll be able to bring back our warehouse staff. We doubt all of our staff will be able to return to our offices in early May, but we hope to be able to re-open our facilities sometime in late-May (though likely with interventions in place to protect staff and visitors.) And we're hopeful that trailheads and visitor centers will begin reopening on our public lands, which will allow us to restart our in-person courses, field trips, and youth programs. Specific restrictions are not known at this time but we expect limitations such as group size and social distancing to be in place for some time to come. 

We're developing various scenarios, both internally and with our partner organizations, to better understand how we can begin restarting operations while continuing to maintain safe practices that help slow the spread of the virus. While we hope for a better scenario, our baseline planning assumption is that our operations will be negatively impacted until a vaccine and treatments are widely available.

These are difficult challenges for The Mountaineers but I think it’s important we keep our situation in perspective. Many people in the world around us are suffering tragedies such as losing a loved one to the virus; others have been impacted by job losses or are putting themselves at personal risk to provide health care or essential services.Our deepest sympathies go out to the many people who have suffered losses and we are grateful for health care professionals and people who are providing essential services.

In addition to the likely operational impacts to The Mountaineers in the coming months, we believe the economic fallout from the pandemic will further challenge nonprofits and businesses for at least the next 12-18 months; we are incorporating this assumption into operational and financial planning. Most of us have experienced being on an outdoor adventure and getting caught in an unexpected storm before the skies cleared and we slogged our way back to the trailhead, wet and cold, but safe. We expect the next year or two to be like that, and we will persevere even if it’s a difficult journey.

PPP Loan Status

We received some good news this week - our Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan application was approved and funded! I'm sure many of you have heard of this program, a part of the $2.3T federal relief package that was approved by congress and signed into law about a month ago. The PPP loan provides nonprofits and small businesses immediate funding to help address the severe economic impacts of the shutdown and as a bridge for the next several months of reopening. An important feature of the program is that a significant portion of the loan can be forgiven if it's used for specific, qualified expenses such as payroll, rent, and utilities.

What PPP means specifically for The Mountaineers is that the funding will help us bring furloughed staff back to work much more quickly over the next 2-3 months than we would have otherwise. Navigating the months ahead is going to be difficult for organizations like The Mountaineers, but the PPP will help us significantly in the next couple months.

Public Lands Considerations

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, many of our state and federal public lands are effectively closed. The resources of our public land managers and first responders are stretched incredibly thin due to this crisis, and in partnership with our land managers, we urge our community to be patient, stay home, and stay healthy.

As restrictions are lifted, we will be working in close partnership with land managers to understand how The Mountaineers and our programs can best re-engage with public lands while being mindful and supportive of the challenges they’re facing. We have a blog where we’re tracking public land closures, and I encourage you to bookmark that as a resource, as it will be updated regularly moving forward. We will continue to work closely with partner organizations to establish consistent, thoughtful guidelines about how we should be getting back into the outdoors as restrictions are lifted. For example, this week we signed on to a letter to Governor Inslee, thanking him for his response to this crisis and encouraging him to consider allowing trail and ecological restoration work to restart in the near future.

eLearning strategy pivot

For five years we’ve invested in growing an eLearning platform. We launched a number of courses available nationally, and created courses specific to our internal leadership. While we remain excited about eLearning, the model was cumbersome and labor intensive and, with the pandemic, we needed to pivot to something more lightweight and nimble. This meant a permanent layoff of our eLearning course developer, and a shift toward a new online classroom platform that empowers volunteer leaders to more easily upload online content. Our goal is to move as many of our courses online as possible to provide outdoor education opportunities now, as well as throughout the gradual re-opening of our programs over the next 12-18 months. We anticipate that the work we do in the coming months will help us be poised for future innovation in course offerings.

As a first step, we launched a new Virtual Education Center two weeks ago, which we hope can become your home base for accessing all of our virtual learning tools. You can find many resources in the education center - plus a page that’s Just For Fun if you want to discover a new internet rabbit hole - and explore all of our activities, events, and classes held online on the new Virtual Events Calendar.

For our volunteers, we’ve also created a robust set of Content Creation Tools. We have resources for learning about using Google Classrooms to manage curriculum, tutorials for making a recorded presentation or video, and inspiration examples from our many Volunteer Success Stories.

Continued diligence

Our urgent and creative response to the pandemic over the last two months has ensured we’re on a viable path for the challenges ahead. The board of directors, volunteer leadership, and staff will be working closely in the coming weeks to build more detailed plans that extend through 2022. As we’ve done since our very first coronavirus blog post at the end of February, we are committed to providing our community frequent and transparent updates.

As we hear new guidance from government and public health officials, we will continue to post the most up-to-date information about any impacts to our programs on the COVID blog and response page. We recognize that this is the most serious threat to The Mountaineers in our lifetime, and maybe in the entire existence of The Mountaineers. We also know that the broader outdoor community often looks to organizations like The Mountaineers for leadership in the way we enjoy the outdoor experience, and we hope to live up to this expectation throughout the duration of this crisis.

We have every intention of ensuring that The Mountaineers will survive this criss through the creativity, hard work, and the power of our dedicated and generous community. Please stay safe, stay in touch, and let me know if I can answer your questions about how we’re navigating this challenging time.

Sunrise on Mt. Baker. Photo by Rafael Godoi.


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Danielle Graham
Danielle Graham says:
Apr 24, 2020 02:54 PM

Staff have been amazing through all of this. Absolutely awesome!

Tom Vogl
Tom Vogl says:
Apr 26, 2020 09:49 AM

Thanks, Danielle! We're honored to serve The Mountaineers community, especially during times like these.

Sally Anderson
Sally Anderson says:
Apr 24, 2020 03:46 PM

Thank you so much for all you are doing to work through this time.
A major concern I have for the restart of our activities, is the resurgence of people from the urban setting to small communities. We could easily carry this virus, unknowingly, to communities that are ill equipped for dealing with it. Our organization should discuss how we restart activities. Usually with our activities we stop in businesses of the communities close to those activities. We should think through how we can reduce potential spread and provide guidelines.

Tom Vogl
Tom Vogl says:
Apr 26, 2020 09:53 AM

I appreciate your comments, Sally. I've heard similar concerns from folks in small/rural communities and think we need to be very sensitive to this perspective. We especially need to be mindful of potential impacts on limited health care and first responder resources when we begin stepping back into outdoor activities. We're all anxious to get back into the outdoors but need to make sure we do so safely and responsibly.

Jan Sweeney
Jan Sweeney says:
Apr 24, 2020 04:03 PM

Jan Sweeney - One thought I have for when we are able to start having our hiking, scrambling and climbing trips again is that we should probably keep the trip size to a small number and with continued social distancing and the wearing of face masks during the trip. This may already have been addressed and if so please disregard this comment. Also, if it is totally not applicable to this page of questions and answers please disregard and remove it.

Tom Vogl
Tom Vogl says:
Apr 26, 2020 09:56 AM

We haven't yet gotten this specific about how trips and classes might be modified as we open back up but actions such as continued social distancing and/or wearing face masks are certainly possible. We'll be taking queues from public health guidance and working with other outdoor recreation organizations to develop appropriate protocols for our activities. Stay tuned for more details in the coming weeks!

Dick Hayek
Dick Hayek says:
Apr 24, 2020 05:24 PM

The record shows that covid 19 infections are mostly in cases where large numbers of people are confined indoors for an extended time period. The likelihood of infection is related to the volume of exposure versus the strength of immunity. Exercise builds immunity and outside air is healthier than inside air. So hiking in small groups should be a low risk activity if carpooling is not done on long trips. There is already talk of opening up some recreation activities, like fishing. I think that Governor Insley should include outdoor Mountaineers activities outside urban areas in the recreation activities that are made available, and open up State controlled lands for that purpose. This move would be consistent with the recent announcement to permit private contruction to go forward. A message from Mountaineers leadership to Governor Insley may encourage him to take those steps forward. His opening of private contruction was the result of receiving a detailed plan from the Building Trade Association.

Tom Vogl
Tom Vogl says:
Apr 26, 2020 09:59 AM

We are hopeful that hiking and other activities, especially those that can be done in small groups, will be allowed for organizations such as The Mountaineers in the coming weeks. We're all anxious to get back out on hikes, climbs, and other activities. We have the opportunity and responsibility to set a good example for others about how we do so safely.

Anita Wilkins
Anita Wilkins says:
Apr 24, 2020 09:19 PM

Thank you, Tom, for your exemplary leadership throughout this crisis. Kudos to you and your team! I have the utmost faith in all of you to keep the organization pointed North, and confidence in our extraordinary community to support your efforts.

Tom Vogl
Tom Vogl says:
Apr 26, 2020 10:00 AM

Thanks so much for your kind words of support, Anita! We'll get through this by staying together as a community.

Stephen Bobick
Stephen Bobick says:
Apr 25, 2020 12:42 PM

The Mountaineers should be advocating for resuming normal outdoor activities, not falling in lock-step with our Governor. The science is turning against the extreme measuress taken by state governors. The models were wrong and we are unnecessarily damaging our economy and freedoms in the process. The most concerning comment is the one about waiting for a "vaccine" to be available. This topic opens a huge can of worms. This is a very poor decision by the Mountaineers.

Tom Vogl
Tom Vogl says:
Apr 26, 2020 10:07 AM

Our reason for making the assumption that things won't be back to some semblance of normalcy until a vaccine is available is not intended to be a medical prediction...it's being done from a scenario planning standpoint, assuming we won't see a recovery to normal operations for the next 12-18 months. I certainly hope things are better more quickly but I believe it's better for us to plan under this assumption and react/respond as we learn more in the coming months. This could mean we open up and get back to normal more quickly but it could also mean the downturn lasts longer. We believe that hoping for the best while planning less optimistically is our best approach under the circumstances.

James Dobrick
James Dobrick says:
Apr 26, 2020 03:29 PM

Right on, Tom.
Hope for the best & plan for the worst.

Fred Strehlow
Fred Strehlow says:
Apr 28, 2020 12:51 PM

I agree with Stephen Bobick. Sweden hasn't placed any restrictions on its citizens and they have faired no worse than the US. I can't see how regular outings would be any risk. One only has to go to a Wal-Mart or Costco to see the futility of all this so called prevention.

Dick Hayek
Dick Hayek says:
Apr 27, 2020 04:14 PM

Governor Insley has just announced a partial opening of recreation activities on May 5, but has not been specific as to which lands and activities will be open then. Please closely monitor what the specific openings on May 5 will be and as soon as possible announce an opening of Mountaineers activities in accordance with the State policy. Some May 5 activities are now open for signup and members need to know which of them they will be allowed to participate in. Also, leaders need to cancel those activities which they know will not be allowed to take place.

I agree with a previous responder that the availability of a vaccine should not be the criterion for resuming activities, because the flu vaccine is only 30% effective and there is no reason to believe that a covid 19 vaccine will be any more effective.

Dick Hayek

Tom Vogl
Tom Vogl says:
Apr 28, 2020 06:55 AM

Dick, having listened to Governor Inslee's press conference and in earlier conversations with state public land managers on 4/27/20, my understanding is that the May 5 opening will apply to most WA State Parks, Department of Natural Resource lands, and WA State Department of Fish and Wildlife lands & waters. The May 5 reopening will be for day use only and it will be important for all of us to check the status of public lands before venturing out and to have a backup plan if trailheads or facilities are crowded. We'll continue to update our public land closures webpage as we learn more about the gradual reopening process: https://www.mountaineers.org/blog/public-land-closures-during-covid-19.

John Bell
John Bell says:
Apr 28, 2020 04:52 PM

You are doing the right things Tom. It is important to protect Mountaineer members so I totally agree with the Mountaineers position regarding this pandemic. The Mountaineers should lead by example and not by defiance.

Lisa Mahoney
Lisa Mahoney says:
Apr 29, 2020 10:05 AM

I pulled these from the Governor's Medium Page. As someone who lives alone, this is a bummer (see Item #4), but these are the guidelines. I think this will impact what activities can be resumed, if we want to remain compliant with the intent of the order:

1) Anyone exhibiting any cold or flu-like symptoms shall not participate in outdoor recreation activities.

2) Any state parks, state public lands, hunting and fishing seasons, golf facilities, trails, and other public parks, public lands and trails may be closed at any time if there is reason to believe unsafe conditions exist or social distancing practices are not being adhered to.

3) People must recreate locally: Do not travel farther than necessary and do not stay overnight to recreate.

4) Limit your recreation partners to only those who live within your household unit.

5) Practice social distancing at trailheads, boat launches, and all areas where you encounter others.

6) Utilize facial coverings in any situation where social distancing is not possible.

7) Bring your own food and supplies when possible. This will help protect others in your community.

Dick Hayek
Dick Hayek says:
Apr 29, 2020 02:14 PM

The current rules as of May 5 put out by Governor Inslee require that hiking groups consist only of members of the same household and prohibit overnight trips. That would preclude the Mountaineers from scheduling any outdoor activities. The Governor said he would put out an update later this week. He needs to be provided information showing that the risk of infection in the outdoors is very low, and based on that, to eliminate the restriction to household members for hikes, allow backpacking and camping with a limit of one person per tent and temporarily limit carpooling to members of the same household. Without those changes, all Mountaineers outdoor activities will need to be cancelled.

Jan Fitzpatrick
Jan Fitzpatrick says:
May 01, 2020 08:14 AM

Thank you for offering the virtual experiences. I've enjoyed the Friday night pajama parties - it's been fun to hear about backpacking trips and see beautiful pictures of outdoor adventures.

Ian Lauder
Ian Lauder says:
May 01, 2020 09:33 AM

Well, it took a pandemic to finally curtail Mounties parties of 12 and hiking nose to butt up the mountain. Hopefully we can get to at least going out in small parties soon (say start with 4 person outings) and work up from there. Right now the guidelines are only going out with family members so that precludes any Mounties trips. Unfortunately those of us who would normally be socially isolated in the mountains with a small group will be bound by the actions of the general public, so good luck with that everyone on Mailbox on the next sunny weekend. I'm sure those working on this on the backend are also considering our liability when leading trips and what new rules need to be adhered to and keep our butts covered.

Ian Lauder
Ian Lauder says:
May 01, 2020 12:58 PM

And yes, follow the science. Not the "science", like the kind I keep having to play whack-a-mole deleting posts off my FB forums from people sharing their science that's been roundly debunked by people who do science.

Dick Hayek
Dick Hayek says:
May 01, 2020 11:29 AM

The present restriction of hiking groups to consist of only members of the same household effectively prevents the Mountaineers from resuming any outdoor activities. There is no evidence of the covid 19 virus being transmitted outdoors. On the contrary, it has been proven that outdoor exercise builds immunity to the virus and outside air is healthier than inside air. All Washington land managers seem to be following the lead of Governor Inslee in their decision-making as to when and how to reopen their lands. The overcrowding on the trails that is a concern to decision-makers is best ended by opening as many trails as possible, so trail usage can be dispersed. So Governor Inslee needs to be persuaded to open all trails he controls as quickly as possible and encourage land managers he does not control to do the same. Secondly, the restriction of hiking groups to members of the same household needs to be changed to a reasonable group size limit that would allow outdoor organizations like the Mountaineers to resume outdoor activities. Third, backpacking needs to be opened up the same as hiking, because it does not require any greater staffing. The location of the greatest number of infections of the covid 19 virus is in the home. The sooner we are able to get people out of the home and engaged in outdoor exercises, such as hiking, the sooner the pandemic will be ended. Dick Hayek

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