Longtime PCT Advocate Lesya Struz Dies

Lesya Struz hiking the Enchantments, 2012. Photo courtesy of Lana Reilly.

Lesya Struz, former PCTA board member, a volunteer founder of the PCTA’s Mount Hood Chapter in Oregon and the force behind the creation of a single permit for long-distance PCT travelers, died this week at her home in Boston, Mass. She was 68.

A 1991 PCT thru-hiker with the trail name “S’Miles,” Lesya served on the PCTA board from 1996-2001 and was part of a small group of hiking enthusiasts in Oregon who, along with Ray Jardine, helped create ALDHA-West, the American Long Distance Hiking Association, West.

“Her enthusiasm for the trails, the PCTA, long-distance hiking and the distance hiker community was unsurpassed,” said Roger Carpenter, longtime PCTA member and trail lover who was there for those early ALDHA-West discussions. “Lesya gave me lots of valuable advice as I prepared for my first thru-hike of the PCT in 1995.”

Roger and Lesya were already doing trailwork projects in Oregon when Steve Queen founded the Mount Hood Chapter in 1993. Queen learned from them as he organized the chapter and said Lesya was a volunteer force unto herself.

She spearheaded the chapter’s first major project to inventory directional trail signs in the Mount Hood National Forest, helping the U.S. Forest Service develop a plan for signing the trail. Eventually the signs were designed and installed along the PCT in the Mount Hood and Willamette national forests in Oregon and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington.

Creating the PCT Long-distance permit

Steve said it was Lesya who came up with the idea of creating a single permit for PCT travelers going 500 miles or more in one trip—a system that still exists today. Lesya, her husband, Joris Naiman (deceased), Brice Hammick and Steve met with the Forest Service and pitched the permit idea. The single permit avoided the cumbersome if not impossible requirement that hikers and horseback riders collect multiple permits for the various parks and wilderness areas along the trail. The agency signed off on the plan in 1996 and the PCTA issued the first 35 permits that year.

Lesya Struz hiking the Enchantments, 2012. Photo courtesy of Lana Reilly.

Queen credits Lesya for helping him become a better leader of the chapter’s growing volunteer force. As a young man, he said he had a tendency to push people too hard. He said he did not understand that volunteers like to work at their own pace and with some independence.

“When I started the chapter, I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said. “I was a micro manager. She kind of slapped me across the face and said she was going to quit. I immediately backed off and changed my behavior.”

ALDHA-West is born

In 1993, Roger and Lesya had worked on a PCT maintenance project when she invited him to La Pine, Oregon, home of Ray and Jenny Jardine. Ray, credited as founder of ultralight backpacking, had organized a climb of South Sister that included Lesya, Roger and Scott Williamson, who would go on to set PCT hiking records. It was that weekend that the conversation blossomed into the idea of ALDHA-West. Roger calls the weekend the “first informal gathering” of ALDHA-West, which formally met the following summer.

From left, Roger Carpenter, Ray Jardine, Jenny Jardine and Lesya Struz during a climb of South Sister, 1993.

By then, Roger was getting ready to thru-hike the PCT in 1995. “Lesya and I spoke a lot on the phone,” he said. “She had a lot of advice and a lot of knowledge of the trail.

“Lesya’s passing reminds me of so many other people in the trails and hiking community who have devoted heart and soul to the PCT and other trails,” Roger said. “They are among the best people I have ever known.”

Advocacy and passion

Lesya’s passion for the trail drove her volunteer service. She was well connected with the government land managers who had oversight responsibilities, which helped the chapter stay abreast of issues that might affect the trail, Roger said.

Bob Ballou, the PCTA’s executive director from 1996-2001, called her a great advocate for the trail. He said she pushed the notion that trail towns should be recognized and supported and was “an animal” when it came to hiking. “She could hike your feet off,” he said. “A great spirit and a real passion for the PCT.”

It was Lesya who, in the late 1990’s, helped secure a $50,000 grant to gather all the government documentation of private easements on the trail, helping PCTA understand where the trail crossed private property. The grant came from the Lewis Anthony Dexter Environmental Trust in Norwich, England. Bob said Lesya was doing research at the Associated Grantmakers Library in Boston when she overheard a woman with a British accent asking the librarian where she might find information about organizations that were working to preserve wild spaces.

“Lesya was all ears,” Bob said. “She went right up and introduced herself and said: ‘Let me tell you about the PCT,’ A wonderful lady.”

Roger agrees.

“Her enthusiasm for the trail was very intense,” he said. “She was a steward for the trail and wanted to make the hiking experience better for everyone.”

Wildflowers bloom on Mount Hood. Photo by Carly Baker.

Author: Mark Larabee

Mark Larabee is PCTA's Associate Director of Communications and Marketing. He is co-author of "The Pacific Crest Trail: Exploring America's Wilderness Trail" published in 2016. Formerly a reporter for The Oregonian newspaper in Portland, Ore., Larabee is a nationally recognized journalist, part of a team of reporters and editors who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. He hiked the PCT across Oregon for a 2005 series for the paper and has been with PCTA since 2010. He lives in Portland.

Photo by: Nathaniel Middleton