The People Behind the PCTA: Stacey Lee, Mount Hood Chapter Volunteer Crew Leader

Stacey Lee lives in Portland, Oregon and describes herself as a “second-and-a-halfish-generation” Chinese American. “My great-grandfather came here to work on the railroads in Arizona in the mid-1800s. My grandparents on my mother’s side owned a grocery store, and my grandparents on my father’s side owned a laundry in Seattle. These were typical businesses owned by Chinese American families in that era because they weren’t able to find employment in any other ways.”

Stacey (right) briefs a volunteer crew before a project in Oregon’s Lionshead Fire closure.

Raised in the San Francisco Bay area, Stacey grew up in Girl Scouts. “I was very fortunate to have Girl Scout leaders who had us doing outdoor activities. For example I was Wilderness First Aid-certified when I was twelve.” She describes learning other outdoor skills, “such as building a campfire in a limited amount of time. Your fire had to burn through a string, then you had to throw a skillet on the fire and cook a pancake, and you were judged on the quality of your pancake.” She didn’t connect these skills to being genuinely useful in the outdoors until many years later.

While studying mechanical engineering at the University of Southern California, Stacey first heard about the Pacific Crest Trail in the late 1990s. “I wanted to hike it someday, but it hasn’t quite happened yet. If I could go back in time, I would have taken those months off after graduating and hiked the trail. But that’s okay. I’ve had a lot of other really awesome opportunities.”

She bought her first backpacking gear after college, “but I couldn’t find anyone to go with because it wasn’t really a thing then. And backpacking alone as a female was a bit intimidating. I now know I’m not the only one with that experience. Those are the initial barriers.”

Stacey eventually found people to backpack with, which gave her a gentle entry to being in the wilderness alone. “We’d start as a group but hike at our own pace, so I’d be alone for part of the time until everyone reached camp.”

Stacey leading the crew into the Lionshead Fire closure.

After several years of hiking, Stacey discovered her other passion: running. She began with a couple of 5K road races and was hooked. So she decided to combine her passions and started trail running. “I think some in the hiking community believe people who run the trail aren’t taking the time to enjoy it, while some trail runners can’t imagine going as slow as hikers. It’s different goals on different days. I can be happy with both, and ultimately it’s important that people are getting out there into fresh air and natural places.” She adds, “Do you ever see people angry or upset in the outdoors? Not really. It’s a place of healing.”

In the fall of 2017 Stacey was trail running with friends in the Wallowa Mountains of Eastern Oregon. On their way back to Portland, they heard about the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge—and barely made it past the fire before the interstate was closed. “Everyone thought the Gorge wouldn’t be the same again—but the local hiking community rallied, asking what they could do to have access again to these special places we all love.”

Because there was so much interest in volunteer trail work, trail crews filled up as soon as they were posted. “The first opportunity I had was a trail maintenance class offered by the PCTA,” remembers Stacey. “So I took those intro classes along with other people I knew, and soon we learned how to register for trail crews just as the links were posted. It was really satisfying work coming from an office job. It was rewarding to go out there and do physical work and see the results.”

Surrounded by blooming beargrass, Stacey plans the cut on one of many logs down across the PCT.

Today Stacey is a member of the leadership team for PCTA’s Mount Hood Chapter. She also leads trail maintenance crews and is responsible for two PCT sections, one in the Columbia River Gorge and the second in Oregon’s Central Cascades. And she knows trail work isn’t limited to the hiking community. “In trail running there is an emphasis on trail maintenance, and in many races there is a trail work requirement—if you don’t meet it, you’re dropped from the registration list for the race.”

Being an Asian American  has resulted in some interesting and frustrating moments for Stacey, such as times when people expected her to speak Mandarin based on her appearance. “I’ve gotten this from people who look like me and people who don’t,” she says. “And more recent immigrants think it’s sad I don’t know the language. Well it’s hard to speak the language when your parents didn’t know it—they were all trying to fit into an English-speaking culture.”

Regarding the recent increase in prejudice and attacks against Asian Americans, Stacey says “Asians are invisible, you know, and I think that’s the reputation we have—we’re dutiful, respectful, we do what we’re supposed to do. We don’t stir the pot.” But she believes Covid-19 gave Asians undesired attention. “Prior to 2020, there were a lot of places I would have gone alone, but now am wondering if that’s in my best interest?” And as a runner, Stacey feels there are fewer places where she is safe to run.

One of her concerns today is accessibility to the outdoors. She wants everyone to be able to experience the healing and restorative power of nature, but says it requires outdoor focused organizations to be conscious of the cost. “I’m fortunate I’ve always had the means to buy the equipment I needed and have transportation to where I want to go. But not everyone is so fortunate, so groupus focused on meeting the needs of non-traditional hikers need to go beyond things like saying, “Let us know if anyone wants to carpool”, and instead choosing to meet in a central location easily accessible by public transit so someone doesn’t have the burden of saying ‘I need a ride.’”

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.