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Leaving a Legacy: Trails Give to Me — Here’s How I Want to Give Back

Craig Romano is an avid hiker and runner who has participated in WTA's annual Hike-a-Thon for the last decade. As his physical abilities change with age, his perspective on the outdoors and how the hiking community can preserve it has also shifted. By Craig Romano.

In the last 10 years, I have welcomed every Sept. 1 as a time to catch my breath and enjoy some much-needed rest. I have been participating in WTA’s annual Hike-a-Thon for the past decade. And each year I try to outdo myself in the amount of miles I can hike and run in the month of August — and how much money I can raise for the protection and expansion of our trail system. 

This past year was another record year for me. I tallied 352 miles on trail in August and raised more than $11,000. And I am not sure whether it’s the fundraising or the running and hiking that is harder and more exhausting. But I can emphatically say that both of those end results left me incredibly satisfied. And the thrill of racking up miles and dollars during the campaign kept me motivated and enthusiastic. 

I decided a long time ago as a guidebook author and outdoor writer — as someone who has immensely benefited from our trails, parks and preserves — that I need to give back. And while I have continued to support numerous trail groups, conservation organizations, land trusts and other charitable venues, WTA’s Hike-a-Thon is one of the causes that I really go all out on. It’s also one of the causes where I can immediately see an impact. 

Craig smiles from a mountain vista. He holds up a cut-out of Miles the Marmot, WTA's Hike-a-Thon mascot.
Craig hikes with Miles the Marmot. Photo by Craig Romano.

The unbelievable support from my readers is what really drives me, and many tell me that I inspire them to get out on trail more, explore new places and give back to the wild places that sustain us. What started out as a way to have fun and raise a little money for our trails has morphed into a major event. I get to engage with hundreds of folks about our trails and why they are so important for our mental, physical and spiritual health.

Through social media, I share my goals and progress. My readers and followers encourage me by generously donating. Through connections with trail-friendly businesses, I am able to offer prizes — which are fun and encourage folks to donate. And — most importantly, since so many of my on-trail pursuits are done solo or with just a partner or two — through blogging and social media, I am able to engage with and be a part of a larger and diverse contingent of trail advocates and outdoors lovers.

From a young age, I have been obsessed with trying to live a life that treats my own mental, physical and spiritual health as a top priority. I am so grateful (through hard work, encouragement from others, some opportune moments and focused determination) that I have been able to live my “dream job” as a guidebook author and outdoors writer. And while I initially struggled to make a decent living doing it, I knew it was my calling and what I was meant to do. As I have become well-established and more secure, I am now reflecting more on how I can give back and what kind of legacy I wish to leave.

Craig and his family, wearing backpacks, smile in front of a mountain backdrop.
Photo by Craig Romano.

For much of my life, I concentrated on seeing as much as I could see and experiencing as much as possible in regard to hiking and the outdoors. And I am pretty satisfied by what I have accomplished so far. My list of trails to hike, parks to see and wild places to explore continues to grow. I have always known there is no way I could ever do all the things I want to do in my lifespan. But it was within the last 2 years that this point became more firmly entrenched in my mind. Between living through the pandemic, turning 60 and acquiring an auto-immune condition that compromised my mobility (thankfully I have since managed it through medication), I see all too clearly now that there isn’t much time left — and you just don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

I no longer take for granted being on trail or being able to make a living writing about the outdoors. I look at every day in the outdoors as a blessing, and I am so grateful to be able to continue to live my life the way I want to live it. But knowing that the hourglass is no longer in my favor has me thinking more about the future — with me no longer in it. What kind of legacy do I want to leave to my son, whom I love dearly, the hiking community that I am so strongly a part of and the natural world that I cherish so much?

Craig poses for a photo with a cardboard Miles the Marmot. He stands on the rocky shore of an alpine lake.
Craig and Miles the Marmot at an alpine lake. Photo by Craig Romano.

While I will continue to write checks to organizations that do work that matches my values, I hope my adventures and writings will have a larger impact. I hope I was able to instill in my readers the desire to live a healthy outdoors lifestyle. I hope I was able to introduce many folks to the threats that our trails, wild places and public lands face — and to the power that we have to thwart those threats. I hope that through all of my books (25 and counting), articles (hundreds) and public appearances (scores) I was able to motivate people to get out of their comfort zones and seek out the place less traveled. It hope it all made a difference and contributed to a more satisfying life. And I hope my writing and experiences are contagious — as contagious as the blasted coronavirus. I hope it all made a difference and contributed to more satisfied lives, and that the people I helped inspire will in turn inspire others and continue the cycle.

I fondly recall the folks who inspired and motivated me throughout my life and how they have made all the difference. Folks like Harvey Manning and Ira Spring, whom I never personally met, but felt like I got to know through their writings.  Their calls to action about protecting our wild places inspired me to continue the fight. Their successes in the conservation world are part of their grand legacy, continuing to touch me and countless others. Their writing and images still resonate with me, offering windows into the past and a glimpse of what kind of future is possible — but only if we make it happen.

Craig and a child pose for a photo on a hillside dotted with wildflowers. Far below the hill spans a large body of water.
Craig and his son, Giovanni, love to hike together. Photo by Craig Romano.

There will come a time — far sooner than I would like — when I will no longer be able to hike or run, a time when I won’t be able to finish a manuscript, a time when I will no longer be able to positively engage with the natural world. When that time comes, I hope my son, my readers and so many people in the greater hiking community will take a little of me onto the trail with them in the form of seeking new adventures, cherishing the natural world and vowing to be good stewards of our wild places. Through all of my time engaging with so many folks, through my writing, adventures and campaigns like Hike-a-Thon, I hope I was able to ignite a little passion in a lot of folks to do their darnedest to make sure our trails and wild places remain for many generations yet to come.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.