Stewardship: Strengthening our Connections to the Backcountry and to Each Other

Community, Conservation and Stewardship - building around a shared passion.
Katherine Hollis Katherine Hollis
August 25, 2015
Stewardship: Strengthening our Connections  to the Backcountry and to Each Other
By Katherine Hollis, Mountaineers Conservation & Responsible Recreation Manager 

“There are two things that interest me: the relationship of people to the land, and the relationship of people to each other.” –Aldo Leopold

In my first season as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed new instructor for Outward Bound, I began to discover the power of these two relationships. For three weeks, groups of teens explore their connections to one another and to the mountains that became their home during their time together. Witnessing their transformation was beyond powerful, and helped me frame my professional life. I watched them be inspired by their hard-earned view from a mountain summit and be challenged as another summer thunderstorm pelted down on their backs. 

A Community Built around a Shared Passion

It is these relationships — to the land and to each other — that brought me to The Mountaineers. Our organization has fostered both for over a century: we are a community built around a shared passion for the outdoors. We connect people with the outdoors to support the physical, emotional and social benefits of a healthy, active outdoor lifestyle. Successful conservation depends on these connections. 

Our members and volunteers are the key to both how we relate to the land and to each other. The courses and activities we offer get people out together and into places that inspire, excite and challenge. This relationship to the land inspires us to want to protect and leave these places better off than when we arrived — because we know our way of life depends on others experiencing the same wonder and joy. 

From the Wilderness Act to the establishment of North Cascades National Park, conservation efforts have protected the land that we now enjoy. However, an aging demographic and decreasing levels of engagement is threatening the future of conservation. The Mountaineers is uniquely positioned to impact and expand the modern conservation movement because of the power of our community’s relationship to the land and each other. And we are already doing this: we instill stewardship and Leave No Trace wilderness ethics throughout the educational components of our courses and provide opportunities to learn and engage in conservation issues. 

The Mountaineers’ Land Stewardship programming is one of the ways we advance in the conservation movement — and a great way for you to get involved! Our leaders provide the leadership and skills required to monitor and restore remote wilderness areas, maintain historic structures, and address impacts caused by intensive recreational use at our state’s climbing areas. Stewardship occurs year-round by dedicated volunteer crews and is an integral part of many of our youth and adult outdoor education programs. Many of The Mountaineers' most popular courses contain a service learning component, directly engaging students in the maintenance and restoration of our public lands.

Stewardship through Trail Work

Stewardship through trail work is often someone’s first introduction to conservation. Thinking back to my days as an Outward Bound Instructor, a day of trail work was powerful for students because it was such a tangible way to see and experience their impact. After carrying climbing gear through a steep, awkward section of trail to access a climbing site, putting in a set of rock stairs to turn it into an easy approach is satisfying, and one can’t help but think of the positive impact it will have for everyone who hikes the trail in the future. Spending a day working on a trail also takes teamwork — from planning to implementing, to trading off roles. It's a great way to further build both our relationship to the land and to each other. It is also just plain fun - nothing like tearing up roots, moving rocks and getting some dirt on the knees!

This article originally appeared in our May/June 2014 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our bi-monthly publication, click here.