PCTA honors Pete Fish during Trail Dirt Live event

Under the warm light of the Mission Inn’s Spanish Art Gallery in Riverside, California, an emotional crowd watched as the Pacific Crest Trail Association thanked and honored the legendary Pete Fish for his 20-plus years of volunteer work on the Pacific Crest Trail. It was the highlight of an evening in which four other PCTA volunteers and agency partners were recognized, and the PCTA reported on its best year ever.

The standing-room-only Trail Dirt Live event reflected the passionate—and at times rowdy—presence of the PCTA Trail Gorillas, the volunteer crew built by Pete that maintains the southernmost 702 miles of the PCT.

The audience in the Spanish Art Gallery.

First up were PCTA Executive Director Liz Bergeron, Board Chair John Crawford and Land Protection Director Megan Wargo, who highlighted some of 2016’s extraordinary accomplishments: more than 104,000 hours given by 2,000-plus volunteers; and two major land acquisitions along the trail—Landers Meadow and Donomore Meadows—that will preserve the wild trail experience into the future.

Next up was PCTA Southern California Regional Representative Anitra Kass, who presented three volunteer awards and an agency partner award.

The PCTA’s highest honor, the Alice Krueper Award went to Michael Lewis. In addition to serving as lead packer (with his trusty mules) for many remote projects, Michael also built the trail’s new Southern Terminus monument.

Pete Fish (with Anitra Kass, left, and Liz Bergeron) displays his award for extraordinary volunteer service to the PCTA.

Awarded to John Shelton, the Southern California Regional Maintainer of the Year Award reflects John’s indispensable role in the Trail Gorillas. With his heavy construction knowledge, John restored drought-proof water flow at Golden Oak Spring on the PCT and maintains a PCT Obstruction Map shared with agency partners.

This year’s Extra Mile Award went to Jim Richter. Only 18 months ago, Jim accepted the position of section chief for an area that includes Lake Hughes, which was severely damaged by thunderstorms and fire. Jim immediately did a trail inventory, prescribed work, and coordinated with agency partners—and assembled a large crew of volunteers.

John Shelton, recipient of the Southern California Regional Maintainer of the Year Award.

For more than 15 years, Roger Murray’s work to provide PCTA volunteers access to the Mormon Rock Fire Station earned him the Agency Partner Award. Thanks to Roger, who is a San Bernardino National Forest fire captain, the Trail Gorillas can use the station (and all its amenities) as a base camp for trail projects.

But the evening’s summit belonged to Pete Fish. Before introducing him, Liz ducked backstage for a moment, then emerged to appreciative laughter wearing a Trail Gorillas t-shirt. She told the story of Pete’s involvement with the PCTA.

Jim Richter, recipient of the Extra Mile Award.

After retiring from a successful career as a petroleum geologist, Pete section-hiked the entire PCT. He also joined the PCTA Board of Directors in 1993, and that year attended the Golden Spike ceremony marking the trail’s completion. At the ceremony, he met PCTA volunteer leader Alice Krueper and was inspired by her dedication and passion for the trail.

In the years that followed, Pete built lasting relationships with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management—helping establish the association’s credibility with those federal agencies. Since 2006, the year the PCTA began tracking volunteer hours, Pete has logged more than 16,500 hours—a fact which drew amazement and applause from the audience. Pete’s wife Joyce was also recognized for being an important part of the trail community.

Mike Lewis (left), recipient of the Alice Krueper Award, with Pete Fish.

Before presenting Pete with a framed, signed photo of the Trail Gorillas in their element, Liz spoke for everyone when she said: “Thank you Pete for your contribution, your dedication, and your passion for the PCT—and for inspiring so many others.”

Below is a transcript of Pete’s remarks to the audience, which brought the event to a rousing close with sustained applause:

I used to help my dad, who was a horseman. He lived in Warner Springs and worked on the California Riding and Hiking Trail as it was being built…and the sad demise of that trail, over the years, convinced me that every trail needs a strong advocate group, and I thought I’d found it when I found the PCTA. This was in 1991, and I was about to hike the trail…and I think I was member number 182 or something like that. It’s great to see where it’s gone from there. The thing I’ve learned about volunteers is…they come with baggage [audience laughter], and being hard of hearing was a distinct advantage for me. But it was a lot of fun. Volunteers, all they need is a challenge—and that’s what I tried to provide.

 We got started in the 90’s with five projects a year, and the high watermark was 45 projects in a year.  I was spending over a hundred days a year actually out working on the trail, and to my wife’s dismay, I was spending the rest of the year—or most of it—either recovering from one project or getting ready for the next.

 When we started, our section was from the [Mexican] border north to Tehachapi—about 480 miles. And nobody was doing any maintenance on the next 250 miles, so we annexed that. [laughter] So that’s how we got up to Kennedy Meadows. We made some really good friends, ranchers up there, who allowed us to camp on the ranch, have access to the trail right alongside of it, and be able to do a lot more work on it if we had to start at Walker Pass or Kennedy Meadows, and worked our way through the whole thing. So the ranchers are definitely a part of our family, and it’s been an ongoing relationship now for 18 or 19 years.

 The other thing I’ve learned is there are a lot of really good people in the government agencies that I ran across, and some of ’em are here tonight, and I really appreciate all of your help over the years, and it really was a partnership.

 It started off a little rough. We didn’t have any money to finance trail projects. So in order to raise a little money to do the projects, we had to go to 12 different district offices up and down Southern California to see if anybody had any money. So if one district didn’t have any money, but had most of the projects that needed doing, we had to go to another district who did have money and do a project there so we could afford to come back. Usually we met to have a coordination meeting in November…and all I can remember of Novembers was racing from the Cleveland office in San Diego up to Ridgecrest—the BLM—and then back to San Bernardino Forest or Angeles Forest…so it was pretty hectic. But we came out alright, and we actually managed to save a few dollars to send back to the PCTA.

 At any rate, it’s been a wonderful experience. And there’s one final thing that I have learned on the PCT: gravity never takes a day off. [laughter]

 Thank you. [applause]

Roger Murray of the U.S. Forest Service receives the Agency Partner Award.

Michael Lewis gets a hug from Anitra Kass for receiving the Alice Krueper Award; at right is Ron Kruger.

Author: Scott Wilkinson

Scott Wilkinson is the PCTA’s Content Development Director. A former professional musician, Scott has 20+ years of experience in almost every marketing role. Before joining the PCTA he was a marketing/creative director at West Virginia University and the University of Oregon. A serious outdoor addict, Scott is an experienced whitewater paddler, hang glider pilot, flyfisher, mountain biker, and (of course) hiker and backpacker.