Field manager Nick Hodges takes on 8th season working on backcountry trails and traveling the world

Nick Hodges in 2016

On Wednesday, April 20, 2016, SOU student Nick Hodges interviewed for an internship on our Wilderness Conservation Corps. He showed up 20 minutes late. "Nonetheless, I saw something in Nick," says executive director Gabriel Howe, who hired Nick to work that summer in the backwoods underneath crew leader Alex Relph.

Hodges at Pearsoll Peak. 2017.

"He was quiet," Alex recalls. "And always smiling." Alex led Nick and his crew on hitches to the upper Chetco, the west side of the Red Buttes, and up the East Fork Illinois River. "He was always a positive force in the group," adds Alex.

Hodges has worked every season since, and is now marking his 8th consecutive summer with SMC sawing logs, clipping brush, and digging tread in the most remote reaches of our region's national forests. He has put in more field hours than any other staff member in our history, and is the second-most senior staff member.

"I've worked with Nick longer than I haven't," says Howe. "And he has booked way more field time than I have. He's out there about 100 nights per year." Nick's current title is field manager but it wasn't always so.

Nick Hodges, Haleigh Martin, Eliasa Collins, Karly White, Luke Brandy. 2018 at Taggart's Bar

In 2017, he returned to assist crew leader Valentin Chavez. Val describes a tough moment when he had lost trust with his crew after moving camps along a trail that was steeper, longer, and in worse damage than he'd anticipated. Val says that afternoon that he and Nick sat together along the banks of the South Chetco to reflect on the situation at hand.

"I said I was thinking of quitting," Val recalls. "Then we had a good laugh at it all and helped walk me off the ledge," Val remembers. It was that same year that Karly White and Trevor Meyer came on as interns and started their own tenures at SMC.

Karly White, Nick Hodges, and Trevor Meyer at Taylor Creek. 2020. Photo by Trevor Meyer.

Karly's and Trevor's roles would morph and evolve over the years. "But Nick just kept on learning trails," says Howe, the executive director. "There aren't too many people who have so many hours doing this backcountry trail restoration. It's the amount of time."

Karly, now a lead program manager who supervises Nick, agrees with that hypothesis. "He's just cut so many damned logs," she says and mentions that Nick sees the same sections of trail year-in and year-out. "He's basically been running experiments for the better half of a decade," she says, describing Nick's intimate interaction with the landscape. "He can go, 'yeah, if you brush this trail this way, this is what will happen.'"

Hodges in his pack raft. 2021. Photo by Trevor Meyer

She says Nick recognizes people have to make mistakes to learn. "He won't let people do anything dangerous. But he'll let you get your saw stuck or get into a puzzle that he can already see the way out of."

Trevor Meyer, who now works part-time in an administrative capacity after working the seasons 2017 - 2021, says that his first impressions of Nick were of a quiet and enigmatic character who he got to know better over the years. "His role is crucial. He holds many years of experience. He's the keystone block."

Known well for his quiet and sometimes painfully shy demeanor, Nick has "grown more confident over the years," says coordinator Alex Relph. "He's found his voice."

Nick describes himself as the "old guru. Maintenance man. Staff trainer. Intern motivator. Cheerleader." He lives at the Club's facility and performs a lot of daily maintenance in return for rent. "I have a pretty good deal going," he says. "I got other people to do the trip reports for me, so that's pretty good."

He's the first to admit that he doesn't relish computer time or tasks at the desk, though he's made it a habit to get his spending receipts in on. Nick has a travel bug he inherited from his family, and most years takes a couple of months off to enjoy international pursuits.

Collection of spoons. Photo by Nick Hodges.

Nick's last adventure was in winter 2023 to the Middle East where he visited Israel, Egypt and Jordan. Petra stands out as a highlight of the trip, he says. When he's not on the trail or meandering about the Gold Hill facility with whatever task is at hand, Nick is busy operating Southern Oregon Spoons, which started by mistake when he forgot to bring an eating utensil for a 10-day-long hitch.

It was 2017 and he made a bet with two staff members that "whoever made the best spoon, the other two guys have to buy a six pack." One staff member forfeited, and the other had a "sh**ty piece of drift wood." Nick put in the effort to make a spoon good enough to eat from. "So they bought me a beer and I had a spoon."

Nick SCUBA diving

Since then, Nick's made a habit of carving wooden spoons of all shapes and sizes that are available online. He's built a career that pays enough to fund his affinity for travel, and where he visits next winter is anybody's guess. A lot of people familiar with SMC only vaguely recognize Nick.

"It's because there's no spotlight 10 miles from the nearest road," says Gabriel. "And he is one of the most interesting people I've ever met, but somehow blends right in at any sort of public event."

"He makes my job more fun," Karly says. "He has more experience than anyone out there and he still loves it. And I think that speaks to his character. It's what he wants to do."

Nick at Petra

"Something you might not know about Nick is that he's a great baker," says Alex. "Pies. Crumble cake. And he has this brownie that is really, really good."

Gabriel says a lot of people might look at trail work as unskilled labor. "It's in the class codes the government has and stuff. But at the end of the day this is a discipline that Nick is a master of."

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