SMC: An American story

SMC: An American story

for the Siskiyou Hiker
by Gabriel Howe, executive director

19 DECEMBER 2018 | ASHLAND, OR. — Ten years ago when I got into this, I didn’t have much of an edge. I didn’t have a bachelor’s degree yet. I didn’t know how to run a crosscut saw, or properly brush out a trail. I didn’t know how to build a budget, write a grant, make an ask, or run a program.

A blur
I’d spent my 20s wandering around between well over a dozen jobs. When my wife, Jill, and I moved to the Rogue Valley in October 2008, the economy was in free fall, and I spent three years working at Ashland Shop N’ Kart as I got things going at SMC. Jill’s been working behind the counter at Starbucks for over 10 years. We had our first child, Carter, in 2011. I graduated from SOU in 2012. I was 28. Carter’s sister, Azalea, was born in November 2013.

It’s a blur after that.

But now I manage nearly a half million dollar budget, and for the first time in our history, there’s a few months of operating reserves in the bank. I have permanent staff and a whole cadre of seasonal staff and interns. I’m not working out of a basement anymore. We have a real community space that serves as our office.

I work with a talented board of directors who keep 300+ miles of trails alive through connecting the communities to the backcountry. There’s so much too look back on and feel proud of. We’ve built something very special here.

Regular people
But what is remarkable about the SMC story is that we’re all just regular people. I grew up as a misfit without a plan in life. I’m not that sharp a guy and I don’t have a lot of natural aptitude, though I do have a gift for picking amazing people to work with. And while I can’t explain in words how awesome my team is, they are just regular people, too.

Aaron Babcock, my field director, is an Oregon boy with the backwoods in his bones. We’re joined by two deputies, Karolyn White and Trevor Meyer. We all graduated from state schools. My board chair, Tami Kelly, is a nurse who grew up right here in Southwest Oregon. Her officers and directors come from working-class stock.

Dare I say extraordinary
None of us came from the ivy league or a whole lot of pedigree. Nobody’s got super deep pockets or a long background in the upper echelons of business. We’re just a group of regular people who come together to produce irregular, dare I say extraordinary, results.

And I know there are a lot of people having a hard time feeling the pulse of America right now. But this is an American story you can count on, regular people banding together and working hard to do amazing things for the greater good.

My edge, my pledge
Back to my edge, or lack thereof, when starting all this out. I didn’t have a lot, but one thing I had was stamina, rigor, and an unabashed love of work, and that has carried me throughout life. I don’t know what the future holds. But I do know that as long as I’m here in this position, I promise to keep my foot on the gas, just like the early days.

I promise to keep aspiring and continue learning. I won’t ever become complacent or comfortable. Working my ass off is all I know.

Long live the backwoods trails. And Happy Holidays.

Gabriel Howe is executive director at Siskiyou Mountain Club. He lives in Ashland with his wife and kids. They’re all current on their vaccines, and none of them have any dreadlocks, tattoos, or piercings.