It seems every time I go on trail I get asked how I landed in my position. Did you study forestry? How many years of trail work have you done? Did you always want to do trail work? Sometimes I am caught off guard by the over estimations people make about my work history, but it does remind me of the experiences I take with me every time I put on a pack.

I have always loved the outdoors, ever since my childhood in Evergreen, Colo., and I continue to pursue ways to enjoy the outdoors and help others do the same. My goal has led me to pursue a number of positions. I believe most significant experience—the one that led me to CFI—was leading college freshmen into a new chapter of their lives at the University of Puget Sound. Our orientation program, “Passage”, was as much a right-of-passage as it was a college orientation. It was a chance to meet people and learn about the community and the landscape of the Pacific Northwest. But it was also a chance to unite against challenges, face tests of our patience and individual will, and come together in close camaraderie in an alien environment full of distractions and obstacles.

My own freshman Passages experience led me to take a leadership role in the outdoor community throughout my college career. I remember having a conversation with one of the orientation leaders, learning about her experience in the outdoors, her methods of balancing her passion with academic pursuits, and her plans for the future. It inspired me to branch out from taking personal outdoor trips, to leading other students, to becoming an Passages leader, and even to helping coordinate the outdoor program in an administrative role until I graduated. Everything I learned throughout my outdoor career in the Puget Sound Outdoors Program has provided the confidence and experience I need to succeed with the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. On a recent work hitch, I had the opportunity to reverse the roles of that first inspirational conversation and watch the possibilities unfold for a new generation of trail stewards.

One of our most recent volunteer groups consisted of college freshmen from Colorado Springs going through their own rite of passage before beginning classes at Colorado College. In addition to our satisfaction with their insatiable work ethic and their humorous and entertaining company, it was my joy to once again be able to watch young students assimilating into a new environment, meeting new people, and discovering new possibilities for the future. As a recent graduate, facing the daunting task of leading a professional life and starting a career, it is easy to forget that just a few short years ago I started on the path that brought me to exactly where I am today. Yet, four years ago I had no idea I would be doing trail work; I thought I would be doing geology surveys, or writing “psych evals,” or submitting artwork to a New York City Gallery. I had no idea what I would do with my life, but trail work did not even register as a blip on the radar. However, for some of these young adults, it was clear to them that trail work would be a worthwhile pursuit.

Even though I was only approached by a few individuals from the group—each eager to learn about how to best apply themselves toward working on a trail crew—I felt a great sense of satisfaction knowing that wilderness stewardship was already as important to them as it had become for me. The only difference is that they are realizing it nearly four years sooner than I did.

Ben Sample

Ben Sample is the Kimberly Appelson Memorial Outdoor Leadership Intern this summer working with the Adopt-a-Peak Crew. Prior to returning home to Colorado, he performed volunteer work with Puget Creek Restoration Society, MetroParks Tacoma, Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, and Trips For Kids in the Seattle/Tacoma area in Washington.