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Volunteer Spotlight: Gabrielle Matheison

Posted by Anna Roth at Apr 06, 2021 04:30 PM |

Volunteers are key for WTA, and we appreciate however people engage with WTA. Some folks like to stick to trail work, some stick to trip reports, some do both. While volunteering has been complicated by the pandemic, Gabrielle Matheisen, a trip reporter and trail crew volunteer, made it work.

Volunteers are key for WTA, and we appreciate however people engage with WTA. Some folks like to stick to trail work, some stick to trip reports, some do both. While volunteering has been complicated by the pandemic, Gabrielle Matheisen, a WTA trip reporter, member and trail crew volunteer, made it work.

Spreading knowledge in trip reports

Gabie has hiked and camped her whole life, first learning the principles of Leave No Trace from her mother on childhood camping trips. But the impact a person can make on the landscape really hit home when she started hiking with a good friend who is an ecologist. 

“She always models a lot of good ways to be respectful of the environment around us. Spending time with her on trail brought me to a moment of clarity about how fragile our natural places are." 

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Gabie hiking at Mount St. Helens. Photo by Gabie Matheisen.

Understanding how one person can affect the landscape around them inspired Gabie to model that good behavior in her own way: by demonstrating it in her in trip reports.

“I've seen people doing the wrong thing on trail, not out of malice but because they just don’t know. I thought I could be helpful by writing trip reports for more popular trails and showing good behavior. I try to throw it in there to educate in the kindest way possible. Because I can complain about this all I want online, but nothing is going to change unless I do something about it.”

Writing as Ms.Math, Gabie documents trailhead parking and the trash she picks up, and includes valuable nuggets of Leave No Trace education in her reports. The first time she did this was on a hike at Mount McCausland and Lake Valhalla, where she carried out 18 bags of dog poop — none from her own pup! 

Gabie acknowledges it can be frustrating and disappointing to clean up after others, but overall keeps an upbeat mindset.

"It's very easy to get frustrated about trash on trail and assume people are selfish, but it's not helpful to anyone to be upset. I try to assume positive intent, and that people are interacting with those natural spaces in the way they know how to. Maybe it's the math teacher in me, but I think it's more useful to be educative than disciplinarian."

We agree! We love seeing hikers helping live Leave No Trace ethics the way Gabie does. After all, trails exist partially thanks to the hard work of hikers who came before you. And it takes continuing work to keep them nice.

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A recent haul off trail at Little Si. Photo (and cleanup!) courtesy Ms.Math.

Putting boots on the ground

In addition to writing educational trip reports, Gabie is an active trail crew volunteer. Last year was her first year on a trail crew. She was inspired to join a crew after recovering from a physical injury that restricted most of her physical activity except hiking.

"I started doing trail work because I wanted to give back to the places and the community that supported me through a tough time. Most of my socialization and exercise for 6 months came from being out on the trails. WTA's site was the main resource I used to get out there safely."

Once she was cleared by her doctor to return to all activities, she wanted to get involved in caring for the natural spaces that had helped her maintain her physical and mental health. She looked for trail work parties, and got on one for Squak Mountain.

"I got super muddy and had a ton of fun. I've been hooked ever since!"

She started out this year by heading to Covel Creek Falls for a weekend of logout. The crew she worked with cleared small trees and one large tree that 150 feet long and 25 inches in diameter.

"Our [crew] leader, Guy, was extremely patient and took time to explain everything and talk through the plan for each tree. I learned a lot about how to look at trees and make a plan that was both safe and required the fewest cuts."

They spent the night camped at the Cispus Environmental Learning Center, then on Sunday, the crew finished removing the tree from the trail.

"Our team worked really well together, taking turns sawing so that no one got too tired. And everyone was so kind. Sawing things and getting muddy is pretty fun, but it really is the people that make me come back over and over again. We spent the last few hours on Sunday removing a couple smaller trees. It was an extremely rewarding experience and I'll definitely be trying to get on another logout in the future!"

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Gabie on top of Mount St. Helens last summer. Photo courtesy Gabie Matheisen.

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