Chris Rylee Brings Diverse Experience and Deep Commitment to His New Role at PCTA

The PCTA is happy to announce that Chris Rylee, of Sacramento, California, has joined us in a new marketing and communications role for the organization. Existing marketing and communications director Scott Wilkinson will continue with a focus on content creation, while Chris will focus on strategy and building our capacity to strengthen the PCT through a broader, more inclusive trail community.

Scott recently talked with Chris about his background, how he came to the PCTA, and what experiences he brings that can benefit our organization and the trail.

Chris Rylee

SCOTT: You have a really diverse background in marketing and communications with experience in many areas; can you tell us a bit about that?

CHRIS: Creativity has always been necessary for me! I started with music in my youth, and grew to love photography and design in high school. While in college at Fresno State, I focused my education on graphic design and developed myself as a portrait photographer and story-telling videographer.

One of my first career positions was with Service Employees International Union Local 1000, a California State Labor Union. There I blossomed from individual creation to leadership, taking on organizational leadership and vision roles. Afterward, I was self-employed for a few years, doing visual communications consulting for mostly nonprofits and organizations which shared alignment with my values. It was richly rewarding to be my own boss, to take on the work that mattered most to me, and to grow into a strategic thinking on behalf of campaigns and organizations—instead of just doing transactional work.

Eventually, one of my closest clients, PICO California (People Improving Communities through Organizing), recruited me to build their communications department from the ground up; it was an easy “yes” for me, given PICO California’s mission to create systemic belonging for those often lost to the margins. In about two years, I refocused the organization toward data-informed communications strategies so that communications became less of an afterthought and more of the core work. The department became successful, the comms staff grew and developed, and the organization now has narrative change as one of its central pillars.

So I come from grassroots social and racial justice nonprofits, and there’s a surprising amount of similarity between elements of the PCTA’s work and other nonprofits: understanding our communities, highlighting and celebrating our work through people and their stories, connecting all of an organization’s many diverse pieces through cohesive branding, and adapting to the ever-changing ways that humans get their information and entertainment. Ultimately, I think these elements translate to most nonprofits, and I’m fortunate to join a team with much of this already figured out!

Regarding your background, you were an adopted child of Korean parentage, and grew up in Texas—in what might be described as a place with limited diversity. Can you talk a bit about what that was like, and how it influenced who you are today?

CHRIS: Yes, I’m an adopted Korean-American with a voice and name that doesn’t match most of the world’s expectations—it was especially at odds back when I had a thick Texas drawl! In my youth, I struggled to fit in as the only Asian person in my small, rural town. I often saw myself as a stranger between two worlds, something often reinforced by my experiences. But I was fortunate to be raised by loving and supportive parents who helped cultivate my creativity and imagination—which is where I found purpose and solace. Ultimately, that creativity became so essential that I shaped my education and career around it, eventually choosing to use my talents to help others facing isolation or othering.

Chris being inspired by a wild and scenic place.

SCOTT: What drew you to PCTA? Can you talk a bit about how you perceive the value and importance of the PCT and all wild and scenic places?

CHRIS: If creativity and imagination were my respite, or my safety during childhood, then the outdoors was my therapy and healing. I grew up riding bikes, tumbling on rollerblades, and in the mischief and wonder of the outdoors—even in the flat, high plains of West Texas. But, perhaps most importantly, my family always took outdoor camping trips for vacations. We’d visit the Southwest US, the Rocky Mountains, or many places in the rest of Texas or parts of California when visiting family. The peace, perspective, and promise of the wilderness was everything to me.

When PCTA reached out to me, I had a powerful moment of reflection: I’d lost my crucial connection to nature and it was time to get my feet back to the Earth. It felt like a calling, and it was easy to say “yes” to protecting, preserving, and promoting the Pacific Crest Trail. Even easier, the PCTA is moving into alignment with the work I’ve been doing, giving me a chance to make this scenic trail a place of belonging for everyone.

What are your hopes for the future of the PCT and PCTA?

CHRIS: For good reason, people come from all over the world to experience and enjoy the Pacific Crest Trail; my biggest hope is that the PCTA can foster even more responsible intersection! Domestic and international, rural and urban, Black, brown, indigenous, non-binary, differently-abled, Asian and Pacific Islanders—the PCT can be a place of peace, perspective, and promise where everyone belongs. And I hope that work breeds compassion for our fellow people, our planet, and ourselves.

Author: PCTA Staff

The mission of the Pacific Crest Trail Association is to protect, preserve and promote the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail as a world-class experience for hikers and equestrians, and for all the values provided by wild and scenic lands.