Building Trails & The Best Job in the World with Lisa Jennings

Lisa and her daughter out on the trail. Photo courtesy of Kevin Massey, Wild South.

So many incredible women in The Great Trails State advocate for, steward, and conquer trails. Lisa Jennings certainly does all of the above. She also builds them.

Lisa is the Recreation and Trails Manager for the Grandfather Ranger District in Pisgah National Forest. Working for the United States Forest Service (USFS) wasn’t always what she envisioned doing, either. Read on to hear Lisa’s story that she shared with us…

“When I was a little girl I never pictured myself working in trails. I wanted to be an artist. But now that I’ve been working on the USFS Grandfather District of Pisgah National Forest for almost a decade, I often feel like I have the best job in the world. As the recreation and trails manager, I get to guide every step of the process of trails on this beautiful slice of Pisgah – from assessment, to design, to planning, to construction inspection, and I even get to help hand build trail. Trail builders often talk about trails as an art and a science, and I get to combine my background in forest ecology with my artistic visions to shape the landscape. My favorite days are the days I get to bushwhack deep into the woods, flagging in new trail concepts. Knowing that you helped bring a new trail to life, one that generations will enjoy, is deeply gratifying work.

Lisa at Catawba Falls, Old Fort, NC. Photo courtesy of McDowell Tourism Development Authority.

The landscapes that I work in – Curtis Creek, Linville Gorge Wilderness, Wilson Creek – are awe inspiring. But I’m often more inspired by the people I get to work with. I lead an amazing crew of recreation technicians on the Grandfather District. While I set the vision, they are the ones who carry out the hard work on the ground with long days in the woods. I also get to work with a set of dedicated partners from non-profits and user groups who teach me and inspire me to do better. I love serving the public. I believe our public lands should reflect the needs of the communities that surround them. The hardest parts of my job are working to balance the diverse uses and passions of the public while knowing I can’t make everyone happy all the time. Well that and all the never-ending emails.

I got into trails because a women who worked on the district inspired me and took me under her wing. I was young, and saw what she did, and wanted to be like her. Now I work to inspire other young women to stick with this field. I work to provide a model for my daughter that women can be outdoorsy and swing tools in dirt. This past year has been surreal with all the trail projects that I’ve worked on with partners for years finally coming to fruition. Gateway Trails and Catawba Falls in Old Fort. Schoolhouse, Yancey, and Sinkhole in Wilson Creek. Leadmine in Linville Gorge. There’s magic and momentum here on the Grandfather, and its inspiring even to me. The secret to it all? Partnership, art, science, and a whole lot of hard work.

-Lisa Jennings
Lisa Jennings. Photo courtesy of Darrell Cassell.