Every June I try to make it up to the summit of either Algonquin or Marcy to take in the vibrant colors of the first alpine flowers in bloom. I usually see lapland rosebay, a pink alpine rhododendron, or Diapensia, a deep green mound with petite white flowers. If I make it over to Skylight I might even get a glimpse of the alpine azalea, a small, deep pink flower only found on Skylight’s summit. I also usually see another alpine flower, one even more rare and colorful than the ones already mentioned. This flower will talk to you about her special, fragile home and even answer your questions about which jagged peak you see off in the distance. To many, this alpine flower’s name is Julia Goren, a human, but in the alpine ecosystem of New York, she could be considered the rarest and most beautiful alpine flower of them all.
Julia Goren is Adirondack Mountain Club’s (ADK) Summit Steward coordinator, overseeing both the volunteer and professional components of the High Peaks Summit Steward Program, an educational conservation program operated in partnership with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Summit Stewards hike to the top of New York’s highest peaks and educate hikers about the rare, fragile ecosystem that is found on 16 of New York’s highest mountains. Julia has been an employee of ADK since 2004 but has been involved with the Summit Steward Program since 2006. In those years she has talked to almost 40,000 people, hiked over 7500 miles and has summited Mt. Marcy over 300 times. If those statistics don’t support it, I’m not sure what will but Julia is very passionate and dedicated to the efforts of this program.
Most of the alpine plants that you find on the summits today once colonized southern regions of the state and Julia is no exception. She grew up in Nyack, NY a town in Rockland County just north of New York City, a piece of information she is always a little apprehensive to give up. She is the daughter of a pharmaceutical manufacturer (father) and a Montessori School administrator (mother) who initiated Julia’s love for the Adirondacks with family vacations to Indian Lake at a young age.
When Julia was 12 she climbed Cascade, her first High Peak, and absolutely fell in love with the area. She describes this hike as a very defining moment in her love for the outdoors and still has a journal entry from when she was 12 describing how meaningful that experience was to her. She went on to hike the 46 High Peaks, a journey she shared with her mother, aunt and cousin. Julia had no idea she would someday be making a living on top of many of those very summits.
Alpine plants have a plethora of adaptations to help them survive the harsh, unforgiving environment in which they live. Julia’s variety of past experiences gives her the extra edge in her own survival in the alpine zone. Julia earned a Bachelors of Arts in Medieval History from Williams College, a good degree to fall on when the samurai swords start showing up on the backs of hikers (true story). Even more pertinent though is her Masters of Science in Environmental Studies from Antioch New England where she concentrated in environmental education, a degree she uses daily. But outside of formal training, Julia has had a variety of other life experiences. She worked on a farm in Connecticut, worked for the Student Conservation Association doing environmental education and trail work, she has been a substitute teacher and even a barista at a coffee shop. She worked for the National Park Service in Arizona at Wupatki National Monument and hiked the long distance hiking trail, Camino de Santiago in Spain and also part of the Appalachian Trail. All these past experiences have given Julia the tools to adapt to being on the mountain and the ability to connect with hikers of all backgrounds as they pass through the summits.
Julia’s journey with the ADK started in 2004 when she accepted a position as a summer naturalist intern and in 2005 as the community outreach intern. It wasn’t until 2006 that she became involved with the Summit Steward program. She was hired on as the botany steward, working with New York’s Natural Heritage Program for two summers, surveying the alpine plants in randomly selected plots over the summits. In the fall of 2008 she returned to the position that she currently holds today.
This year, Julia is celebrating 10 years of being part of ADK’s North Country team. Her position has become more administrative over the years but she can still day hike Mt. Marcy faster than most who attempt it and still spends multiple nights out in the woods each week. As for the future of the program that she loves so much, she hopes to keep expanding the natural and social science research that the Summit Stewards take part in and continue to work with more partners. Over the years Julia has become a part of New York’s alpine tundra, her own species in New York’s rarest ecosystem and along the way she has given so many of her tiny, vascular and non-vascular friends a voice, a voice that they had never had before.