I was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, but grew up in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, in the shadow of Mount Monadnock. My parents were from Brooklyn, so while they loved the natural area, they didn’t grow up engaged in outdoor activities. I went to Conant, the local high school, for one year, but graduated from St. Bernard’s, a Catholic school in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.
During my high school years, Monadnock beckoned to me. I climbed it, and found that I liked the mountain, I liked the woods, I liked being above tree line and seeing the views. I kept climbing and eventually figured out how to do it right: what shoes to wear, how much water to bring, what snacks to carry. But I wasn’t thinking about an outdoor career.
I started at Keene State as a computer science major, thinking that would help me land a job with decent compensation. That was my mindset. I was going to get a computer science degree and get out of school and have a reliable paycheck. And then I will build my life. It was as thought-out as an 18-year-old can be sometimes.
But it turned out I was terrible at computer courses. I switched to management because there was some carryover and I didn’t have to start from scratch – and I also felt management was a good fit for me. The management program at Keene State was a very warm and welcoming part of the school. The professors connected with me on a basic, genuine level.
While I was at Keene State I got a summer job at Monadnock State Park. I started to learn about the mountain, the trails, the mountain’s history, which is deep and rich and very interesting, and I had a front row seat as staff member and saw how people got in trouble. I witnessed what happens when someone is dehydrated, when someone is trying to hike trails in conditions they’re not prepared for, don’t have gear for. What happens when people get trapped in the weather, especially above tree line or in winter.
In my studies, meanwhile, I found that a lot of the management stuff was interesting – international management was very interesting; marketing I found fascinating. I credit the management staff with their approach in the classroom, the culture that they fostered, and how they connected with me to really be a successful student.
When I left school, I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do. While I was at Keene State, I’d been involved with radio station WKNH. I loved the station and the community of people that loved music, which is a big passion of mine. I was program director for a while, and I also used my radio show and my affiliation with WKNH to reach out to record labels and different artists that I was interested in. I’d go see them play and interview them. I have Keene State and WKNH to thank for being able to meet and interview a lot of my music heroes – including Joe Strummer from The Clash, Henry Rollins, and Dave Vanian from the Damned, England’s first punk band.
After I graduated, I continued to work seasonally at Monadnock State Park. I started there as evening campground staff, checking in campers and taking care of late-day hikers, making sure they had headlamps if they were going up and they knew what time sunset was. There was a lot of back-and-forth with other staff – we had people sweeping the trails and others checking to see which cars were left in the parking lot, keeping tabs on who was out there at the end of the day, making sure unprepared hikers made it back down. Eventually I joined the day shift, which also involved educating day-use hikers and making sure they had the right gear, maps, and enough water – that sort of thing – plus cleaning bathrooms, working in the park store, helping out with rescues.
I had sent a tape of my WKNH show to a radio station down in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I had an interview, got a job offer, and declined. The rate of pay was so bad. I knew getting into radio meant sacrifice, dedication, and little money, so I was not naïve. But when you’re looking at working 50 to 60 hours a week and still needing to get a second job, it’s a wake-up call. I decided to recalibrate.
I ended up moving to New York City and lived in Queens for a year, trying to break into the music industry. I had an interest in managing. I connected with a band there, Murphy’s Law, that I had seen at gigs, and lucked into a one-day job as their roadie in exchange for a ride to a music festival in Worcester. That turned into a steady job as a one-man tour manager. I went to pretty much every show of theirs for two or three years. Murphy’s Law is a well-known name in the hardcore and punk rock world. I applied all of my management skills to tour managing, and joked that, essentially, I was babysitting four adults. The band would load their gear with my help, set up, play, and break it down. I did everything else, including selling the merchandise, doing the budgeting, paying out per-diems, settling with promotors, putting the driving directions together. There was prep work for me ahead of the tour to get the itinerary, to get the directions, to know where the venues were, to book hotels. Budgeting. Paying the band.
While I was managing the band, I moved back to New Hampshire and began working at Mount Monadnock again, because it was one of the few jobs that I could say to my manager, “I’m going to be leaving for two weeks in August, and another week later,” and still have a job when I returned. That allowed me to travel – granted, in a van – and to see a lot of the country and to meet a lot of cool and interesting people. The band job brought me a lot of great memories, and it was a really fun thing to do at that stage of my life.
As a young person you get the impression that life goes out in stages and plans. You graduate high school. You figure out what college you’re going to go to. You get your degree, and when you get out of school you’re going to get that job and then you’re going to settle in, and then you’ll meet someone and you will have a house and two-and-a-half children and a dog. That’s how I thought it was supposed to go, because I didn’t know any better.
Eventually I gave up managing the band. I had no access to health insurance; I was leaning on a job that wasn’t giving me a steady income. So when the assistant manager position became available at Monadnock, I went for it, and I got it, and a year later moved into the manager’s job. I was the youngest manager in the history of the park. I had great teachers and role models in the managers that came before me, so I had a legacy to answer to as well. I found myself rising to a level that I didn’t think I could.
In 2013, I left Monadnock and moved to the Concord office of the New Hampshire State Parks to run the parks’ volunteerism program. The job appealed to me because Monadnock was really home, but having grown up there, I just did not have a desire to stay there for my entire life. The volunteer program was new and fresh. It was ready for somebody to come in and mold it, put it together, really put their own stamp on it. Also, it would allow me to work on a statewide level and feel less chained to one place. In that job, I immediately had a lot of work to do on relationships. Many parks had friends groups and volunteer groups, some of which didn’t have a person directly managing them. The work involved culture change but also some trust-building.
I held that position for five years, and then stepped into the manager’s job here at Mount Washington State Park. I was ready to go to the next level. My experience at Monadnock and with the volunteer program merged to give me a strong background for this job, which has been called one of the most challenging park manager positions in the country.
Balancing relationships, the 300,000 people a year who come through these doors, the weather, the logistics of just getting up and down this mountain ourselves, getting supplies up and down, getting work projects done, coordinating with contractors: there are so many moving parts up here. It’s a high-profile place, so something as simple as the location of a handicapped parking space can be front-page news. It means there’s a lot of responsibility here, and that’s something I take a lot of pride in.
Mount Washington, with its carriage road and cog railway, seems to be the polar opposite of Monadnock. But I know that without the accessibility, many people would not get to foster their own connection to this place. For those who don’t like summiting a mountain to find a thousand people on top of it, plus cars and a train, I get it. But I also see people here enjoying the mountain and in awe of the views. It only benefits the outdoors, really, to have more people build family memories and personal connections with these natural places. That how I see our role up here at the summit. We continue the care for the place, the care for those trails, to provide access.
I’m here no less than four days a week, and a number of overnights. The staff all park at the base of the mountain and come up in vans, and it’s often easier for me to stay up here than to try to get everything done that needs to be done by the time the last van leaves. In the winter, it’s often the weather that keeps the staff at the summit.
The Mount Washington manager’s job is complex for a number of reasons. First, the state park makes up just 60 acres at the mountain’s summit. The auto road to the top is privately owned, as is the cog railroad. The weather observatory at the summit is a nonprofit. The buildings at the summit, including the state park’s visitor center, are all serviced by an on-site sewage processing system run by the park staff.
Because of the infrastructure up here, hikers who find themselves in a tough spot – they’re concerned about the weather, or they’re tired, or they’re running out of supplies – are likely to keep climbing instead of turning back, thinking they’ll hitch a ride down on the cog railway or on a shuttle van. But the shuttle stops running at 4:30, and the railway is closed down under certain weather conditions. By 5 p.m., we start getting hikers who want us to bring them down to the base. If we drove everyone down, we wouldn’t get anything else done. So our staff has to talk with them, size them up, and judge whether they are legitimately in danger.
We had somebody pass away in June because of exposure and hyperthermia coming up on the Tuckerman Ravine trail. A New Jersey mother with her 35-year-old daughter and her daughter’s husband were hiking in gear that was barely passible on a good weather day, which it wasn’t. They called 911, and Fish and Game immediately called us. I went down and was the first person on the scene. We were dealing with freezing fog, icing on the rocks, 60-mile-an-hour sustained winds and a windchill of 12 degrees. The mother ended up passing away at the hospital from cardiac arrest brought on by her body temperature dropping so low. We did everything we could. All three of them may not have survived if we hadn’t gone down. But it’s another level of risk and responsibility up here.
I live nearby, in Gorham. I’m single at the moment – this is a tough job, relationship-wise. I was involved with someone this winter, and me working Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s day, my birthday – it didn’t always go over very well. And sometimes you get stuck up here, so it’s hard to make plans. It’s a lot to ask someone else to take on.
When I’m not at work, I’m off in the woods, usually. I hike quite a bit. I finished the New Hampshire 4,000-footers a couple of years ago. I’m chipping away at the New England 67. I’ve found two things that, through spending time in the outdoors, I had interests in. One was photography. I really enjoy capturing images when I’m out hiking and certainly up here. I have a fairly active Instagram page that Mt. Washington took over. The handle is @topofthenortheast . I want to promote the beauty of Mount Washington, but I also want to share it with people who don’t have the advantages of being up here.
The other interest is writing. I started writing a weekly blog at Mount Monadnock. I figure if I’m going to sit down and write I might as well help the state parks out. I’d write about winter trail conditions, then I started mixing in historical pieces. I’m posting from Mount Washington now.
I look forward to coming to work every day. I put a lot of myself into the job because I’m passionate about it. I’m passionate about the park, I’m passionate about the park system, about the mountains, about the opportunities we afford up here and the responsibilities we have. I did not land here because I had planned to be a park manager for my whole life. It was a mix of different things. A connection to the outdoors has been so valuable in my life. I discovered it really on my own, and I fell into it and fell in love with it.