Getting lost as an 11-year-old on my third camping trip ever was not much fun. I had just joined a Boy Scout troop in Charlotte, NC, and had no idea that I could be faced with such a real and terrifying situation. Although I was never very far from the actual trail, I now consider that trip – and more specifically, the two hours I spent going in circles – to be the first real adventure of my life. It was also my first Wilderness experience.
By the end of high school I had been on week-long backpacking trips through Wilderness areas in North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Utah, and Washington. I had been on – but hardly appreciated – some great adventures. School and sports began to dominate my life and the transition to college left me without any time to go to the wild places that I loved so much.
In the summer of my 20th year I worked for a consulting firm that helped companies make their accounts payable departments more efficient. “Streamline Your Back-End Financial Process!” was the tagline, which sounds like a sales pitch for a corporate laxative. Bored out of my mind, I went on a few solo backpacking trips to Linville Gorge Wilderness and Shining Rock Wilderness in Western North Carolina, where I rediscovered some of the magic I had lost. The next fall I began looking into a new line of work – one that would get me into the mountains. I took a position as a Wilderness Conservation Corps Intern with the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS), an organization that would show me a whole new world.
I started the summer that I spent on trail crew with a drive from Charlotte to the Pisgah National Forest in early May. I remember feeling as if I was breaking shackles off my ankles as I made my way into the mountains with everything I needed for the season in the back of my car.
That summer marks a paradigm shift in my life; I learned a whole new skill-set that formed a baseline for the continued work I do in Wilderness, and I met a remarkable group of people that introduced me to the Wilderness community that I now know and love. By the end, I was exhausted and ready to spend a lot of time indoors, but I had one main objective for the future – to find a way to continue to work in Wilderness.
Over the next fall, winter, and spring, I returned to school and finished my degree in Political Science. After graduating in May of 2014, I returned to work for SAWS, this time as a Wilderness Ranger in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Northeast Georgia. Upon finding myself back in the Southern Appalachians, I discovered that my role as a Wilderness steward had changed. I was no longer simply working in Wilderness, I was now working for it.
As a Ranger, my main mission was to be an advocate for the forest’s wildest treasures. While on trails, I acted as an authority for the resource, sharing the value of the land with forest users. Outside of it, I reached out to local organizations to act as a conservation community organizer and Leave No Trace educator.
As I got better at my job, I found that my work was becoming ever more meaningful and gratifying. The notion that I could make a career out of working for Wilderness had begun to take hold, and I formed the idea of starting a new adventure in a wilder place. I became infatuated with the idea of moving west, and started looking for a job that would provide both a meaningful experience and a (relatively) stable life. My boss at SAWS, Bill Hodge, put me in contact with Phil and Sandy of FSPW, and things began to snowball from there.
After an arduous seven months of pursuing this job, I am finally here. I couldn’t be more excited to say that I’m working for one of the most impressive organizations I have ever encountered, located in one of the coolest towns that there is, in what a friend once called “the wildest state in the west.” I will be meeting many “Friends” soon, and I’m looking forward to a very bright future here.