Hiking the AT back to the ADK | Interview with Kelsey Semrod

Wednesday, March 6, 2019
By: Kelsey Semrod

Kelsey Semrod grew up visiting the Old Forge region. Her summers spent surrounded by Adirondack wilderness inspired her to pursue a career in environmental science. Kelsey is setting off to hike the  Appalachian Trail (AT) to explore more of the U.S. great wilderness this year. We caught up with Kelsey before her trip to learn more about what is inspiring this fun journey from the AT back to the ADK.

I am a water resources scientist currently living in Washington, D.C., and I’m about to embark on a five-month thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.

I enjoy both geeking out on environmental data and getting outside as much as possible. One of my favorite activities is paddling my canoe, FLOTUS, down whitewater rapids on the Shenandoah or along the urban Anacostia. I hope to complete the Appalachian Trail in August and continue on a career path that combines technical components of science with education and outreach.

Student turned environmental scientist

I became involved in the environmental field in the classic way that I believe most people do: I wanted to make a difference.

I took an AP Environmental Science class in high school that had two summer assignments: 1) read A Sand County Almanac and 2) summarize one environmental article per week. The first assignment gave me such a peaceful appreciation of nature and the second truly scared me (environmental news can be so heart-wrenching).

In college, my environmental science major took me to Taiwan, Australia, and Nevada… but I was most fascinated by local, urban watersheds and the organisms and people impacted by them.

I conducted research on acid rain and toxic trace metals in sediment and continued through graduate school to research green infrastructure and natural stormwater remediation in cities. One of my favorite things is when scientific research meets educational outreach, where people in our local communities are involved in the science and understanding of their rivers.

Falling in love with nature in the Adirondacks

I grew up on a very busy, highway-like street in central New Jersey. My backyard consisted of a small section of deciduous fragmented forest - I remember thinking it was so wild and beautiful.

Then my family made the six-hour drive north to Old Forge, NY when I was seven, and we continued going up every summer, fall, and winter. I remember feeling like it was the one place where I could roam freely.  

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I loved feeling completely surrounded by the depth of the forest. To this day, when I visit the north woods, I remember the unique sounds and smells of the river water and the damp forest floor.

It was like being in a different world: I’d hop in a kayak, strap on snowshoes, or go down to the dock and listen to the loons have their evening meeting. It is the place I think of when I need an escape from a busy day and the place where my love of the outdoors began.

To me, the Adirondacks mean diverse forests, inter-connected lakes, high-flowing rivers, waterfalls, high peaks - I think the Adirondack region has it all.

The Fulton Chain can take you on a multi-day canoe trek. The High Peaks offer exposed 360 views and vistas. The rivers offer cliff jumping and whitewater rafting. The forests are full of wildlife and dense tree canopies. Aside from the natural side of the Adirondack region, the culture itself is also unique. I just love the communities of people who make their lives there.

Preserving the Adirondacks, our health and future

From an environmental standpoint, preserving the Adirondacks means preserving, at a very basic level, dense canopies of tree species: the lungs of the earth, protectors of species biodiversity, and longstanding historical landmarks.

Natural landscapes are a necessity for combating the real global emergency of a changing climate, and trees are some of our best protectors. From a personal standpoint, I have some of my best childhood and adult memories in the Adirondacks. I and likely others use these memories, not only to find a connection to ourselves and the environment but to find peace and clarity and reprieve from the daily hustle, political drama, and at times all-consuming virtual world.

We need wild places like the Adirondacks to stay healthy and wild not only to help protect us from a changing climate but also to stay in touch with our best selves.

My plan: hike the AT back up to the ADK

Finding this connection in nature is part of what has inspired me to want to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (AT). Ten years ago, I spent 12 days backpacking through the Connecticut and New York sections of the AT. I had started planning the trek at varying points, but instead prioritized going back to school or starting a new job.

Coming into 2019, I decided I was going to prioritize the AT instead. I have primarily lived in large cities along the east coast and wanted to see this part of our country from a different perspective, live outside for five months, and do something that would push me beyond my physical and emotional limits and remind me what I’m made of.

I will have started hiking northbound from Amicalola Falls in Georgia in February. I have a general plan to finish my hike in mid –August.  I plan to stop in towns along the way, visit family and friends, and smell the roses (and pick raspberries!), so to speak.

My short-term goal is to spend my birthday (March 14) in the Great Smoky Mountains. I also plan to venture west while I am in the northern sections to visit the Adirondacks, of course!

A chance to reconnect with new wild places

I am excited about being surrounded by trees, trekking through small towns, seeing friends and family, meeting people along the trail, meditating... I am most excited to walk among the trees and reconnect with myself and the environment around me.

A weekend trip rarely allows anyone to be fully immersed in the spirituality of nature, so I’m excited for full immersion. I am a little nervous about what happens after I complete the trail– I tend to be a planner but am trying hard to embrace the unknown.

While a challenge, I think it is a necessity for my personal growth and will enable me to come back to a job as a scientist with a new, re-invigorated lens for environmental work.  

Join us in wishing Kelsey well on her travels on the AT!

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Kelsey Semrod is a water resources scientist currently living in Washington, D.C. Kelsey grew up visiting the Old Forge region. Her summers spent surrounded by Adirondack wilderness inspired her to pursue a career in environmental science. She enjoys kayaking and snowshoeing in the Adirondacks whenever she can get a chance to visit up north. 

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