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Where Are They Now: Jessie Thoreson Has Spent Every Summer Outdoors

Posted by Anna Roth at Mar 11, 2019 09:46 AM |

Youth program alum and volunteer Jessie Thoreson been working outside since the summer she spent interning with WTA. She told us how interning with WTA helped her choose her major, and what she's been up to since then.

Young volunteers have been an integral part of Washington Trails Associate's work over the years. Whether they participate in trail work, advocate for trails in Olympia or spend time volunteering in the office, WTA appreciates and benefits from the efforts of young people to get involved in the trail community. 

Sometimes, that involvement can spark an interest that lasts a lifetime. Like with Jessie Thoreson, who was a youth program intern with WTA in the summer of 2013. Back then, she supported the volunteer vacation program by assisting crew leaders throughout the summer. Since then, she's spent, in her words, "not a single summer indoors".

We caught up with her recently to see how being part of WTA's volunteer community set her on that path. 

What sparked your interest in being outside?

I grew up spending vacation time with my parents car-camping on the Oregon Coast, going on canoe trips in Montana and spending long weekends up in the Cascades. I feel so fortunate that my parents had the skills and desire to expose me to these kinds of experiences from a young age as they have become the foundation for my fascination with the natural world that has persisted my whole life.

Camping and being outside was a core part of Jessie's upbringing. Photo courtesy Jessie Thoreson

How did you find out about Washington Trails Association?

I first learned about WTA when I was in high school. Almost every summer, my good friend and I would go on at least one youth volunteer vacation up in the Cascades or out on the Olympics. Once I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to continue spending my summers outside. The one organization that I was familiar with and trusted was WTA.

So what was your next step with us?

I applied to be an Assistant Crew Leader (ACL) for the youth volunteer vacation program, and spent the following summer leading those same work parties that had inspired me in previous years. It was satisfying to facilitate high-schoolers who were making discoveries and having similar experiences to those I had found so impactful.

Jessie (in the orange hat) assistant crew leading a youth volunteer vacation on the Lower South Fork Skokomish River. Photo by Jackson Lee. 

What skills did you learn as an assistant crew leader?

Personally, I learned the nuances of backcountry living: cooking, pooping, bathing, sleeping and working in a wild place. And as an ACL, I learned how to juggle safe group management while maintaining a sense of wonder and playfulness among the crew.

Do you think developing those skills helped with what you pursued after that summer? 

Yes! Being an ACL gave me my first practical experience in the backcountry. That gave me the confidence to solidify my choice of major.

I applied to be an Environmental Education major at Western Washington University. I had always been interested in both teaching and natural history. Having field experience made me more confident in pursuing this path.

Jessie enjoying a panorama from an Olympic Mountain summit. Photo courtesy Jessie Thoreson. 

So how have things been since then? 

Since my summer as a Assistant Crew Leader, I have not spend a single summer indoors. After graduating with a degree in Environmental Education, I have been a volunteer Wilderness Ranger, a Conservation Technician in Northwest Montana, an Ameri-Corps Fire Effects Monitor for the North Cascades National Park, and a Wildlife Field Technician.

Jessie working as a wildfire technician, one of the many ways she has found to work in the outdoors since spending her summers with us. Photo courtesy Jessie Thoreson. 

Each of these unique opportunities have helped me more fully understand the bioregions I live in, given me insight into contentious and important land management discussions and strengthened my appreciation for the importance of having access to wild country. 

Want to join a youth volunteer vacation and see what the buzz is about? Read what you need in order to spend a week outside with WTA, and submit your application. If you haven't volunteered with us before, try a day work party. There's no experience necessary, and it's a great way to see how you like it.