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Crew Leader Mike Owens Retires

Posted by Sarah Rich at Mar 21, 2013 04:52 PM |
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After 13 years of crew leading day trips in the Puget Sound area, Mike Owens is finally retiring from Washington Trails Association. What's next for this trail work legend? Volunteering on trail, of course.

After 13 years of crew leading for WTA, Mike Owens is finally hanging up his blue hat. He claims that this time, his retirement is for real.

If you've ever done a mid-week work party in the Seattle area, you've probably met MikeO. With 2,350 trail work days under his suspenders, Mike has spent more days on trail with WTA than anyone else. Since he started off as a volunteer in 1998, Mike has broken two shovels and two grub hoes in his utter enthusiasm for trail work.

But most of the time, Mike's enthusiasm for his job comes out in his interactions with volunteers. He is especially known for his collaborative approach to trail work, giving guidance rather than strict direction to volunteers.

"The thing I've always appreciated about Mike is his ability to give constructive criticism in a positive way and to make people feel good about it," says volunteer Greg Friend.

Making them laugh and getting trails built since 2000

When he first started as a paid crew leader in 2000, Mike remembers being really nervous about leading a group of people. But he realized that if he could make them laugh during the tool talk, everything would be all right. So he told the crew a joke about penguins and it worked--they laughed, and everything was all right. Feeling victorious, Mike memorized five more penguin jokes before his next work party. He has been making volunteers laugh ever since and needless to say, everything has always been all right.

Over the years, Mike has also gained the respect of land managers for the quality of work that his crews do. Mike has overseen the construction of seven miles of new trail at Grand Ridge and supervised crews in rebuilding the bottom two miles of trail at Mount Si.

He has worked on almost every trail at Cougar Mountain and Squak Mountain and Taylor Mountain, managing almost all of WTA's work on King County and significant portions of our work on the Darrington, Cle Elum, and Snoqualmie North Bend districts too. In fact, land managers have grown to trust Mike's leadership so much that they often let him make his own decisions about the trails he's working on.

From trail crew leader to ... trail volunteer

Mike leaves behind him a legacy of unbeatable trail technique, gentle instruction and a sense of humor that makes his work parties more about fun than work. Green hats and orange hats alike will miss Mike's staunch leadership, but they won't have to miss him for long.

What are Mike's plans for retirement? To volunteer on trail with WTA, of course! In the coming months, look for MikeO on trail, swinging a Pulaski and sporting a shiny new orange hat.

Share you memories of working with Mike

Do you have a great memory of working on trail with Mike? Tell us your story in the comments below!


MikeO, out standing in his field

I worked for WTA part-time in the old Cobb Building, and on my way out one morning, I stepped off the elevator, and to my surprise, there stood Mike Owens.

“Mike! Wow, what brings you to the big city!?” I asked.

Mike said, “well, you know…I woke up this morning and I said to myself, ‘Mike – it’s your day off. What do you feel like doing today?’ Then I thought about it for a minute or so and decided it would be a good day to stand in the lobby of a building. So here I am, standing in the lobby of a building.”

I had to run & catch a bus, so I don’t know for sure if he was, in truth, headed up to the WTA office, or if he really did want to stand in the lobby of a building that day, and it was a strange coincidence that he chose Cobb Building.

All I know is that when glanced back before I rounded the corner, he was still standing there, perhaps fulfilling his dream.

Posted by:

"Kim Brown" on Mar 22, 2013 10:23 AM

My introduction to trail work with WTA

With that easygoing style and characteristic twinkle in his eye, Mike led my very first trail work party -- which makes me feel like I got to be a part of something great. Thanks, Mike, for making it a blast and for setting an incredible record of days on trail that's just asking to be beat. :)

Posted by:

"Loren Drummond" on Mar 22, 2013 11:25 AM

Working Next to MikeO

Here is my secret: every time I go out on trail with MikeO, I wait to volunteer myself for a project until everyone else has been assigned one. Once everyone else is busy working along the trail, I follow Mike and work next to him. I do this mostly so that he'll do all the work for me, of course, but I also do it so that I can talk to him. Because a little-known fact about MikeO is that he's actually quite an interesting guy to talk to. His dry humor, his breadth of literary knowledge, his appreciation for a good Downton Abbey debrief . . . all trail work aside, these MikeO qualities are near irreplaceable.

Posted by:

"Sarah Rich" on Mar 22, 2013 01:57 PM

Hard Hat Glory

My friend Katz and I started doing WTA work parties this year and were awaiting our personalized hard hats with great anticipation. As soon as we did our first work party with MikeO, we knew we wanted to do all of our work parties with him. When I found out MikeO was leaving, I was secretly devastated that he wouldn't be there to give me my hard hat himself. Last week Katz was set to earn her hard hat and I was one work party away! But after Katz was awarded hers that morning before the safety meeting, Mike said he had a second presentation to make. I had to promise to do one more work party, he said as he pulled MY VERY OWN HARDHAT from behind his back. Needless to say, I was elated. MikeO's thoughtfulness and care for his volunteers is only one of the things that make him an irreplaceable crew leader and a role model for many.

Posted by:

"LauraSchlabach" on Mar 25, 2013 09:58 AM

Mountain Loop work parties

I worked with Mike on the work parties on the Mountain Loop highway at Bolder River and a couple of others. I always liked working with Mike and his crew because they were all more my age and they weren't in in a big rush to get things done, but at the end of the day it was all done as planed.I will miss working with Mike because of his friendliness and exuberant way of going about the task of working on trails. He is a rare gem and do beleive he will be looked to for advice and how to do things on the trail

Posted by:

"Hermod Bakke" on Mar 25, 2013 09:58 AM

Thanks MikeO

It was my good fortune that Mike was the CL on one of my earliest work parties. I was amazed by how much we got done and how much fun it was. I will always remember a trip out Hwy 410. Mike had just shown me the flowering body of the corral root, a plant which is symbiotic with the Douglas Fir. I expressed awe and asked if he knew a lot about flora and fauna. He said "sure, they are plants and animals respectively". Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge and humor.

- Troy

Posted by:

"juan es un pescado" on Mar 26, 2013 01:41 PM