When the sun was rising above the snowy mountains and the sky was turning different shades of red, I was driving away from the Adirondack High Peaks that I have called home to a place out of my element. The bustling New York State Capitol in Albany is vastly different from my summit office. On Valentine’s Day, I was there to advocate for the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) and its importance in funding the Summit Steward Program. As the Summit Steward Coordinator, I am one of a lucky handful of Summit Stewards who get to spend their summers educating hikers on the importance of protecting rare alpine tundra on New York’s tallest peaks. Although I had never lobbied before, I was excited to try something new.
The EPF Lobby Day was organized by the We Love New York campaign. Over a hundred organizations were there to advocate for the EPF and we were split up into like-minded groups. The groups then went to legislative offices to speak to Senators and Assemblymen on the importance of the EPF for our respective programs. Although lacking my lucky hiking boots, I started to feel at home connecting legislators to the narrative of ancient alpine plants.
When telling the story of alpine vegetation, there is a lot of action as you can image. There are the thousands of hikers visiting the High Peaks every year, the few Summit Stewards who are educating hundreds of people every day, and the tiny plants that are enduring harsh mountain conditions. What I found so powerful about that day was not just my story but the stories that everyone in my group told. Katie Jilek from the Agricultural Stewardship Association spoke about struggling farmers in the Hudson Valley who she knew by name. Connie Prickett from The Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy spoke about Saranac Lake’s wildlife-themed Winter Carnival parade and the importance of protecting wild lands for wild creatures.
What I realized that day was that we were all talking about the same thing: our connection to the land. At the root of our stories, we are just people trying to protect special places that we love. That is the connection I am trying to forge, whether it be on a mountain summit or in a legislator’s office. In that connection we find that we are more the same than different. We cannot protect wild places without the help of the people who visit them and the funding to sustain them. Thank you EPF for the opportunity to do both!
Kayla White, Summit Steward Coordinator