Thru-hiking the inner workings of the PCTA

By Sean McNeal, PCTA GIS Intern, summer 2017

Opportunities are often few and far between in life. Some folks are terrified by them while others enthralled.

However, my recent chance to work as a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) intern for the Pacific Crest Trail Association allowed me to learn about the intricacies behind an organization that changed my life and regularly changes the lives of many others. In fact, my time on the trail led me to pursue studies in a field that now, five years later, has me fulfilling a position I have coveted.

When I first set foot on the PCT, it was a backstage pass to exploring the West. I was eager to have a walk-about in nature, and I experienced a plethora of firsts. By trail’s end, I had met extraordinary people and my perceptions of the world changed as I discovered a great many things, profound things. Yet still, I was completely oblivious to the hard work and dedication that is poured year-round into sustaining the PCT as a path to such discovery.

Sean at work at the PCTA office in Sacramento.

As student of ecology and conservation biology at the University of Idaho, I caught wind of an opportunity to work with the PCTA from one of my favorite professors. I responded immediately with an email from my phone with such excitement and haste that it was somewhat illegible and, I thought, sure to strike me from consideration. Yet I landed this incredible opportunity and sought to pay it forward.

The position was funded by a generous donation from PCTA donors Tom and Teita Reveley through the university’s internship program. Thanks to them, I was able to experience 10 weeks with the PCTA. With staff hikes, humor and ultimately a shared passion for what the trail is to all, the PCTA is a family that works tirelessly, yet remains happily grounded to the trail.

My projects were of great interest as they were lessons on the complexities of the work of maintaining and protecting the trail. It was amazing for me to produce maps on intricate land management issues in Southern California—something few hikers who venture there might consider. I was absolutely thrilled to work on projects that taught me a great deal about the GIS system and the capabilities that are far beyond my skill level. Though I leave feeling I just got settled and ready to knock out more, I am grateful for the time and experience.

This wondrous opportunity was another path that I am honored to have walked. Much thanks PCTA.

Happy Trails!