A glimpse into the mind of ON Ambassador Marshall Alford!
1. So Marshall, give us a brief synopsis as to how you became so involved in the outdoor world.
As I sit in the Nantahala Forest Office writing this interview on my lunchbreak, I reflect on the series of outdoor experiences that have shaped not just my career aspirations and current position with the US Forest Service but contemplate how they have shaped me as a person. I think that a connectivity with the outdoor world has exposed me to a state of mind, an inner peace which is rare in this modern world. It has also fostered an independence of mind, body, and soul that I rely on in the frequent challenges of life. I feel my time navigating the woods and backcountry has calibrated an internal compass that helps guide me through life. I began my outdoor adventuring very young because both my parents were very competent outdoorsmen. We often lived in rural communities with access to public land because my parents worked for land management agencies like the Bureau of Land Management as wildland firefighters. Access was readily avaliable and made even easier by the good fortune to have horses. I began riding very early because while I was young, I couldn’t walk 20 miles into the backcountry but I could ride that far without being too much of a burden to keep my dad from chasing elk through the mountains. At 12, I was old enough to hunt for myself and we began doing even more trips to hone the skills of hunting. Around the same time, I began to be more active in my scouting troop. Over the next few years, I went on many group camping trips and volunteered to build trails along continental divide in the Colorado rockies. These experiences brought me in touch with federal agencies, particularily the Forest Service.
2. How do you recreate in the outdoors? How has this changed over time?
I most frequently interact with the outdoors on a daily basis as part of my job but that isn't as interesting as why I recreate in the outdoors. While my modes of access have evolved through my life from backpacking and hiking to horseback riding and working for the Forest Service, the one constant has been the venue. I am always drawn to the forests. For me, it isn't simply the preserved scenic attractions the National Park Service offers, it is the remote and functionally conserved corners of the woodlands and backcountry. Every outdoorsman after spending some time outside discovers that one landscape that speaks as if you are the only person to have ever set foot there and when I truly found that place, it became a lasting connection that inspires and directs my outdoor activities. I intend to continue that relationship with the land in a way that will secure its' avaliability for others to have a similar relationship. It is a leave no trace ethic but the way I stumbled into understanding it drove its significance deeper than any class could hope to. So while some things about how I recreate in the outdoors are important and easy to share, the significance comes from why I recreate in the outdoors. The latest change is the desire to share that reason why because it brings meaning and purpose to venturing out into an unknown and threatening environment. In short, I recreate in the outdoors to know myself and I would like others to recreate outdoors to know themselves. That is why I volunteer with the Outdoor Nation.
3. Are there any special strategies you use to engage other youth in the outdoors?
For many people, the trip they take to the outdoors with you as an inspiration/ role model/ guide/ friend may be their first real excursion. While it may be tempting to show them everything the great outdoors has to offer, it could be difficult to take it all in at once. When for example visiting a remote area of particular grandeur, it may be best to minimize or compartmentalize the need for learning or preforming technically complex tasks like mastering knots or using new gear. The youth may need a simpler opportunity to interact with a new and overwhelming experience like encountering wildlife for the first time. The great part about this strategy is it provides a perfect opportunity to slow down and appreciate some of the more intricate complexities of the natural world you are surrounded by for yourself. Its easy to get absorbed in the task at hand when assessing a complex climbing route and setting anchors thereby missing an important part of why your there.
4. What did you major in school and how are you applying that in your work?
Bachelor of Science in Natural Resource Management with a minor in Conservation Biology. I also spent a year in environmental engineering but found that I wanted to work more closely with resources and needed to focus on a system's approach to resource issues instead of constructing a solution using conventional civil engineering approaches. Its not that engineering doesn't work, its simply not the approach I wanted to take to resolving management problems. I get to apply my education to decisions that will be made affecting more than one factor like wildlife habitat, water quality, quality of visitor experience, fire danger or vegetation management. It makes my job much more interesting because I work with how those pieces function relative to each-other instead of how to make one piece work better. I seek optimum performance from the conglomerate rather than from the component.
5. Give us your insight about how you feel connecting youth with the outdoors provides a positive impact.
Good management in natural resources comes from an engaged public and that begins and ends with youth every time. We live in an interesting time where for the most part, all the giant environmental problems have been addressed with large and obvious environmental solutions. What remains for our generation is a very hands on approach using adaptive management and community based planning to work out the details and tailor solutions from the bottom up. This will be a huge challenge and bottom up solutions will come much easier when we have a majority of the public interacting with the outdoors. When people don't have a relationship with their public land, tax revenue is not allocated for its management. This is a problem because the value of that public land is not limited to its recreation value, millions depend on it for other uses. It is the source of clean water for almost all US citizens. There are a plethora of other resources that come from the existance of publicly held land that are avaliable at a reduced cost and higher quality because people value having public land avaliable for them to recreate on. By connecting youth to the outdoors, I am securing the future of public land and laying the foundations for effective scientific management of resources the way Gifford Pinchot envisioned: the greatest good for the greatest number over the longest time. Despite the mathmatical impossibility of optimizing three things simultaneously, it creates the ideal scenario for our society to thrive.
6. Favorite backpacking dinner?
here is a recipe for a backcountry chowder I absolutely love the only modification I usually make is to add a handfull of dried mushrooms when repackaging at home. The directions for preparing the meal to take into the field are also included as adapted by a good friend. Its the perfect food for a winter season trip!