Pay It Forward by Giving Back

We hear about the importance of giving back all the time - but why? Craig Romano, Mountaineers guidebook author, breaks it down through his experience exploring the wilderness over the course of a lifetime.
Craig Romano Craig Romano
Mountaineers Books Guidebooks Author
April 18, 2017
by Craig Romano, Guidebook Author

I often head to the backcountry to escape the madness of civilization. In nature, I see order, purpose, and reason. In cities, I often see chaos, confusion, and conflict. There’s nothing like a walk in the woods to rejuvenate a tired, tormented and tried soul. There’s nothing too like an invigorating hike to help validate my existence and place in the world. And while I need the natural world for my sanity and sanctity; the natural world very much needs me and other like-minded folks to help keep it from being compromised, abused, and lost forever.

I learned the importance of giving back to nature and to my beloved trails at an early age while growing up in a small town in New Hampshire. New Hampshire has one of the best trail systems in the nation because of the hard work of such organizations as the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). And New Hampshire has an incredible network of protected lands (more than 25% of the state) both public and private (open to the public) thanks to pragmatic and passionate organizations like the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF). 

When I got hooked on hiking as a young adult in the 1980s and realized how many threats my precious wild places were facing, I immediately became involved with the hiking and conservation communities. For while I relish in my solitude when traipsing all over the backcountry; when it comes to protecting our parks, forests, and trails, we cannot be loners. Nor can we be complacent about being involved with trail and conservation organizations. As trail users and outdoors recreationists we are indebted to the tireless advocates, volunteers, and activists who secured these places for our enjoyment. And we owe it to the next generation, that these places remain protected and open to all Americans. We have a moral and ethical obligation to give back to the trails and wild places that give us so much pleasure.

As a young college student in 1982, I scraped some money together and joined SPNHF. I have been a member ever since—even though I left New Hampshire in 1989 for my new home in Washington. But I return frequently to my home state’s trails and I love seeing what my money and the money of so many other trails and natural places loving folks can do. And it is because of the special places that SPNHF helped protect in its 116 years—places that helped me green bond and live a meaningful and connected life to the outdoors that I am the person I am today.

My membership in SPNHF was just the beginning of more than a dozen trail and conservation organizations that I would eventually join and support. Other groups I'm proud to be a member of include The Mountaineers, Friends of the Wapack Trail, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Columbia Land Trust, Skagit Land Trust, San Juan Preservation Trust, Conservation Northwest, Kettle Range Conservation Group, and the Washington Trails Association (WTA). 

I have been a member of The Mountaineers since 1990 — joining shortly after moving to Washington. This organization, which was founded in 1906, has been a driving force behind protecting some of Washington’s most treasured wild places. Powered by 12,000 outdoors-loving members, The Mountaineers community can be found teaching low impact recreation skills, contacting lawmakers to preserve public lands, and working to steward our region’s trails, climbing areas, and coastlines. The club’s publishing arm (which I am proud to be affiliated with) has published more than 500 outdoor recreation and conservation books. 

Last year, more than 1,600 Mountaineers volunteers presented outdoors skill classes to more than 2,500 recreationists. The club also published its “Be An Outdoor Ambassador” video series, which shared low impact recreation skills with thousands of viewers – including some from as far away as New Zealand. As for stewardship – from the mountainous Little Si Trail to the shores of the Olympic Peninsula – The Mountaineers host an array of activities that members and guests can sign up for. Through its advocacy program – which works to protect the wild places where we play – the club helped protect 30,000 acres of Washington public land last year. The community comes together to speak for our lands – notably contributing 3,000 individuals to sign on in support of National Heritage Area designation for the Mountains to Sound Greenway.

As an outdoors writer and guidebook author for the Mountaineers Books, I enjoy sharing adventures with my readers and introducing them to an array of wild and natural places to explore. And it is one of my paramount duties to make sure that my readers are well aware of how our parks and wilderness areas came to be — and what we must do to make sure that these special places stay protected or get the protection they deserve. My array of guidebooks has a strong conservation ethic. I hope through my writings that more folks become involved with trail and conservation organizations so that they too can pay it forward and become part of our large community of folks living healthy and connected lives to the outdoors. And I want to be assured, that these trails will continue to be there for my son —and generations to come. 

If you spend any time in our backcountry, I implore you to get involved with some of our local and national conservation and trail groups. Support organizations that share your outdoors values and have excellent accountability records when it comes to leveraging your hard earned cash — and when it comes to getting things done. Groups like The Mountaineers and key partners of theirs like Washington Trails Association, Mountains to Sound Greenway, Washington Climbers Coalition, and Fortera and so many others need and deserve your involvement and support. For example beyond my involvement as a Mountaineers member, I have been a member of WTA for more than two decades. WTA did phenomenal work on 180 trails in 2015. This is so important in Washington where past legislators and governors have shown little interest in properly funding our state park system. And Washington’s national forests – including the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie which is one of the most hiked in the country – are operating on skeletal budgets with tiny trail crews. These places need our help. 

Do what you can, but do something. No financial or in-kind donation is too small. And no amount of time volunteering is not appreciated. We have an obligation to be guardians, stewards, and advocates for the trails and lands that have given us so much enjoyment, spiritual redemption and life-changing experiences.

Craig Romano, is an outdoors writer, photographer, and author and co-author of 17 books. His Columbia Highlands Exploring Washington’s Last Frontier was a 2010 Washington Reads book for its contribution to the state’s cultural heritage. He lives with his wife, son, and cat in Skagit County.

This article originally appeared in our spring 2017 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.