The People Behind the PCTA: Jeanine Russell, Columbia-Cascades Regional Representative

Every year, conservation corps across the nation give young people valuable skills and a chance to support wild and scenic places. The Montana Conservation Corps provided Jeanine Russell’s opportunity, putting her on the path to where she is today. One of PCTA’s regional representatives, Jeanine is responsible for roughly 400 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from Windigo Pass in central Oregon to Potato Hill in southern Washington.

Jeanine enjoying wild huckleberries in Jefferson Park, Oregon.

Not the typical career path for an English major from the University of Illinois, but when Jeanine  couldn’t find a job, she moved to Montana and joined the conservation corps.

“I had no idea what I was signing up for, but it was an incredible experience that moved me deeply,” she said. “I was a 22-year-old, very happy with my little English degree, who all of a sudden was in the backcountry for the first time, learning about grizzly bears, doing crazy stream crossings and more.”

Jeanine believes her childhood spent outdoors in the rural Midwest influenced her career more than she initially thought.

“In regards to making the outdoors a more equitable space, I was thinking about how we often don’t think about simply being outdoors as being ‘outdoorsy,’” she said. “But growing up in farm country, we were always outside and always in the woods.”

When Jeanine’s conservation corps work ended in Montana, she relocated to Portland, where friends helped her get a position with the World of Speed Motorsports Museum. But she missed trail work and being outside.

“I distinctly remember one time trying to go back to my apartment and there were no available parking spots at my apartment. So just on a whim I drove out to Mount Hood and went camping for the weekend,” she said.

In 2017, Jeanine  got a seasonal PCTA position as a technical adviser, working with crews on field projects along the PCT. Jeanine worked in almost every region of the PCT that first season, traveling between projects and living in her Subaru. She loved it. She returned to work for the PCTA in 2018, focusing on the Columbia-Cascades region in Oregon and southern Washington. Working with previous PCTA representative Dana Hendricks, Jeanine helped lead a relocation of the PCT near Mount Jefferson to reduce impacts on sensitive alpine ecosystems.

Jeanine was exhausted after the 2018 season and thought she needed a full-time job in a single location. She went back to Illinois and worked for a school district’s youth employment services program.

When she got the PCTA’s Columbia-Cascades regional representative position, though, she moved back West.

Jeanine and her partner Charlie in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness.

“This position is really compelling to me because it is a little-bit-of-anything-and-everything kind of job,” Jeanine said.  “Sometimes it’s people calling me on the phone to ask about trail conditions or working with volunteers on projects they’re thinking about and planning. And other times it’s bigger management pieces like helping to plan large-scale projects or manage resources near the trail.”

Jeanine’s PCT region has two of the biggest PCTA volunteer chapters: the Mid-Oregon Chapter and the Mount Hood Chapter. Jeanine said the volunteers’ wealth of experience has made it easier for her to take on the job.

“There are so many opportunities where I’m inspired by the brilliance and passion of our volunteers and other PCTA staff and our agency partners,” Jeanine said. “It is easy to be passionate about the PCT and to get excited about it, a little romantic about it, and to philosophize about it and want to dig in!”

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.