PCTA’s Trail Operations enters 2018 under new leadership

photo of Jennifer Tripp and Mike Dawson

Jennifer Tripp and Mike Dawson

As we turn the corner on another year, the PCTA introduces new leadership for our Trail Operations staff. Director of Trail Operations Mike Dawson will retire at the end of March, creating advancement opportunities for other staff members.

Mike’s retirement is no surprise. We’ve been working on a transition plan for some time that will continue PCTA’s strong leadership over PCT maintenance and protection, agency partner relationships and volunteer programs.

First, I must say that it won’t be the same around the PCTA without Mike. Mike was one of my first hires at PCTA, and over the last 14 years he has helped build a trail operations program with a deeply knowledgeable and dedicated staff that has put us in a fantastic position to maintain and improve the trail for decades to come.

Mike’s experience with the Appalachian Trail Conference, followed by his work with the Pacific Northwest Trail Association, made him the perfect person for the job. I was thrilled to be able to hire somebody with Mike’s extensive background in national scenic trails. He brought a wealth of knowledge in public land management policies and practices to the job and has deep and lasting relationships with elected officials and land managers.

When Mike first started, we had no trail operations staff. We had a couple hundred volunteers and some funding from the U.S. Forest Service. It was Mike’s job to help us figure out how to build a structure that would best serve the PCT. His workspace in the Sacramento office was located under the stairwell and included a desk that I picked up at the local thrift store. Our volunteer hours were somewhere in the 10,000 range, but without a system to truly capture our work, we really didn’t know how much work was being accomplished for the trail.

We have certainly made a lot of progress since then. PCTA volunteers gave just over 104,000 hours in 2016! Because of Mike’s contribution and the talented staff that he assembled, the PCT is well cared for, our volunteer programs are thriving and the visitor experience on the trail is world-class. We will surely miss Mike on a day-to-day basis.

Luckily, we’ll have him around in an emeritus capacity. While letting go of management responsibilities, he’ll stay involved with the trail as a senior consultant to the PCTA. And he will continue to work as an advocate for trails with the Partnership for the National Trails System.

Jennifer Tripp moving up

Incoming PCTA Director of Trail Operations Jennifer Tripp

PCTA’s incoming Director of Trail Operations Jennifer Tripp

I’m delighted to tell you that Associate Director of Trail Operations Jennifer Tripp will be moving into the director’s role. Jennifer has been with the PCTA since 2007 and has a proven track record of efficiency, a tireless work ethic and an attention to detail that will serve the PCT community and the trail very well.

Jen worked at the North Country Trail Association before we brought her on to help with our volunteer program and outdoor industry relationships. It wasn’t long after when we realized we needed her to focus on building a robust volunteer program. PCTA was so fortunate to recruit somebody with Jen’s experience and passion for trails.

Under Mike’s mentorship, Jen has been preparing for her newest role for years learning more about trail management and protection. Jennifer developed and continues to oversee the PCTA’s nationally-recognized Trail Skills College training program and curriculum, including one of the first chain and crosscut saw certification programs recognized by the U.S. Forest Service. She works closely with the Forest Service’s Technical Advisory Group for saw operations. She is active in the Partnership for the National Trails System and is on the board of the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance.

Today, she manages a $1.5 million annual trail operations budget and directly supervises our trail operations employees—all while overseeing the management and training of a flourishing group of 2,081 volunteers in three states as well as supporting PCTA’s trail management, protection and advocacy efforts.

I am confident that Jen has the leadership, strategic thinking and planning skills needed to move our trail operations work forward. Her excellent relationships with our agency partners, volunteers and staff will help PCTA immensely in this transition.

“Mike has helped build a great program and I’m honored to take it over,” Jennifer said. “Over the last 11 years, I’ve learned so much from his experience. There’s a lot of nuance to the job. We work with volunteers and state and federal agencies. Mike has trained all of us to work in those very different worlds. I’m very excited to move into this new position.”

Justin Kooyman promoted

PCTA's incoming Associate Director of Trail Operations Justin Kooyman

PCTA’s incoming Associate Director of Trail Operations Justin Kooyman 

Regional Representative Justin Kooyman will move from his role overseeing trail operations in the Northern Sierra to the associate director of Trail Operations. He will focus on trail protection and management projects, visitor use management and agency planning efforts that have an impact on the PCT. He will continue to work from our Northern Sierra office in Portola, California.

“I’m really excited to tackle new challenges,” Justin said. “There’s a lot I have to learn, but over the past several years, Jen and Mike have been asking me to do more high-level policy and planning tasks related to our work.”

Justin thinks Jen is great at keeping the Trail Operations team on track and that her organizing skills will be a huge asset to the program. “Jen and I have been working together throughout my nine years at PCTA,” Justin said. “She’s a great listener and always thinks systematically and logically. She’ll do an excellent job.”

Jen and Justin have grown in their capability and their reputation—both within the PCTA and the agencies we work with.

“They’ve both been taking on more and more responsibility—as have the rest of our regional representatives—accomplishing work at a higher and more sophisticated level over many years,” Mike said. “I expect great things from these folks and I’m really pleased they have the opportunity to grow within the organization.”

Bill Hawley retires

Retiring North Cascades Regional Representative Bill Hawley receives a parting gift from Columbia-Cascades Regional Representative Dana Hendricks.

Retiring North Cascades Regional Representative Bill Hawley receives a parting gift from Columbia-Cascades Regional Representative Dana Hendricks. 

We are sad to see Regional Representative Bill Hawley retire from full-time work with the PCTA, but we’re happy for him in this transition. As he says, he’s not really leaving. Starting on Jan. 1, Bill will adopt trail sections as a volunteer steward in both the PCTA’s North 350 Blades and White Pass chapters.

So he’s really going back to his roots. He joined the Mount Hood Chapter in February 2006 and adopted trails in the Indian Heaven Wilderness. In 2008, he and Kim Owen helped create a first draft of the PCTA Saw Training and Certification Program. His work in this program and hundreds of hours of trail maintenance led to a seasonal position in 2010 in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. We hired him full-time in 2013 after four seasons as a PCTA trail crew technical advisor.

“My favorite aspect of this work has been working with volunteers,” Bill said. “I find it rewarding to help channel their passion for the trail into effective work that supports trail maintenance and trail protection. The result is often the creation of community.”

Bill is most impressed with the PCTA staff and the passion each member brings to the job. “It’s been incredible to be a part of this team that stands up to constant threats to the trail day-after-day and year-after-year,” he said.

Welcome Michael Hanley

PCTA's incoming North Cascades Regional Representative Michael Hanley

PCTA’s incoming North Cascades Regional Representative Michael Hanley

Our new Regional Representative for the North Cascades is Michael Hanley. His first day was Nov. 6 and he has been working closely with Bill to learn more about the issues, agency partners, and volunteer programs.

Michael is from Seattle and most recently worked as a trail crew leader for the Mountains to Sound Greenway. He thru-hiked the PCT in 2013 and brings strong communication and collaboration skills to PCTA programs in the North Cascades. We are excited to have Michael join the PCTA staff.

Welcome Connor Swift

PCTA's incoming Northern Sierra Regional Representative Connor Swift eyes some poodle dog bush.

PCTA’s incoming Northern Sierra Regional Representative Connor Swift eyes some poodle dog bush.

To fill Justin’s regional representative position, we are promoting Connor Swift from trail crew technical advisor, a role he has held since 2016. He formerly worked for the U.S. Forest Service.

As a technical advisor, Connor coordinates, plans, develops and executes trail construction and maintenance projects along the PCT. He supervises and trains corps crews and volunteer crew leaders to ensure that the work is completed safely and to standard. He has made great efforts to collaborate with the PCTA’s agency partners, both on maintenance projects and emergency fire closures. We are happy to welcome him in this new role. He will start March 19.


Author: Liz Bergeron

Liz Bergeron has served as the Executive Director and CEO of the Pacific Crest Trail Association since 2001. When she’s not working diligently to protect, preserve and promote the PCT, you may find her taking long walks in her neighborhood, day hiking on a local trail or introducing new hikers to the PCT.