When I first started my fellowship with the National Park Service I had just left a job where I was living outdoors for over half the month, I had worked there for close to two years. My first few weeks in the office required some adjustment. I hadn’t really used a computer in the two previous years, and at work I was interacting with a screen for a typical 8 hours workday. I developed persistent headaches that lasted for the first two weeks.
Reflecting on my experience now I know that living and being in the outdoors for so long rewired my brain, but when I first started my fellowship I was not fully aware of this. As time passed I became accustomed to working in an office, it helped that I liked the work I was doing, creating a communications strategy for the National Trails System. Occasionally I would remember something that I had forgotten about living in the field. Like how I used to sleep under the stars, which I remembered after I realized I hadn’t seen a starry night sky in months. Or how quiet and peaceful it was in the middle of nowhere, a memory I recalled while I was trying to meditate one morning in my backyard.
Before I knew it had been months since I was last in the outdoors in a backcountry setting, away from noisy neighbors, cellphone service, and adult responsibilities. COVID had also taken a hit on my mental health and I felt the overwhelming urge to be outdoors again, so I reached out to an old friend and we organized a trip in the Wind River Range in Wyoming along the Continental Divide Trail (CDT).
The CDT is one of the National Scenic Trails that is part of the National Trails System. I was excited to see this trail up close as I had already spent time planning how I would share National Trails with the American public but had yet to see one up close. I backpacked into the wilderness with a few friends, and found myself completely surrounded by tall pines, serene lakes, and thousands of mosquitos. The beauty of the landscape and the stillness of our surroundings more than made up for our lack of bug spray.
The benefits of nature have been studied and reported on for many years now, and studies are demonstrating that nature has a positive effect on emotional and mental health. This is why it is incredibly important to me to educate others about the opportunities that exist in the natural world.
It was an incredible experience to traverse the Continental Divide Trail, and Wyoming is not the only place along its path that has amazing viewsheds. In my time working with the National Trails System I continue to be amazed at the history, culture, and recreation opportunities that exist with each trail. These trails connect beautiful landscapes and histories, and I am what I can to try and share those with the world.
Agency: National Park Service
Program: Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Program (COR)
Location: Rivers, Trails Conservation Assistance Program - Denver Support Office