Just Who is this Smith Rock Park Super Fan Turned Volunteer?
October 4, 2019,
Growing up at 5000 feet, surrounded by trees on National Forest land, with wildlife in abundance, stirs the outdoor spirit, no matter what your genes give you. In the case of “Summit Trail Amy,” it shook her spirit to her core. Many of you have asked to know more about this mystery woman that gives so much to Smith Rock State Park. Here is her story.
Amy Sue Matthews was just 11 years old when her family let her loose on the trails surrounding their “99-year lease” cabin in the mountains of Lake Arrowhead, California. While technically hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, she just considered it her backyard. The wildlife she encountered? “A treat.”
Even the black bear later in her adult years that wandered into her garage, and the one that tried to get into the bird feeder on the deck. And snakes? Let’s just say she still gets WAY too close to cuddle up to them and to even rattlers for videos.
Fast forward to 2012, when she passed through Central Oregon visiting friends in Bend and got introduced to the high desert. She had never been to Oregon except when she was 9, on a family visit to Crater Lake. She then returned whenever she got a break from her teaching job in California to spend spring and summer exploring the area.
In December 2016, she made the move to Central Oregon upon retirement from teaching. Just in time for “Snowmageddon”, when many local areas got knee-deep snow in one day. No stranger to snow and winter conditions from her time in Lake Arrowhead, she wasn’t fazed. Until she slipped on Day Number 2 and fell in the driveway and broke her wrist.
After that she realized she could be vulnerable hiking alone, reinforced by a worried son that came to visit the following Thanksgiving after they hiked the Misery Ridge Loop Trail together. Amy was used to the wider paths of Lake Arrowhead trails.
A friend changed all that though, when she took Amy up Burma Road and then around the Summit Loop Trail. “Summit Trail Amy” became connected to her moniker in more ways than one. Not knowing that many people in the area, the Summit Loop allowed her to embrace her solitude, something she still values today.
With over 300 hikes ticked off all around Central Oregon since she started logging them in January 2018, she recently achieved a big goal of hiking to the 10,000+ foot summit of the South Sister, a 4900 foot elevation gain in 5.5 miles. Not bad for someone that got winded on a 2 mile hike in September of 2017. She feels she is living proof that endurance, strength, and stamina can all be enhanced with a goal and effort.
Now she provides inspiration to other women, as co-ambassador of the Central Oregon Chapter of “Hiker Babes,” a group she reached out to in her early days when she wanted to find Central Oregon trails that were safe for women to do alone, and to meet like-minded women into hiking. And even though she had hiked alone from Alaska to Hawaii, (and with a guide in Scotland) she realized after injuring herself in Kauai by tripping over a tree root and the consequences that could have been, that maybe some places are best explored with company.
While full-time hiking was certainly “living the dream”, Amy wanted to give back to the community with some of her spare time 2-3 days per week. As luck would have it for the rest of us, her chance encounter with a volunteer while Rangers Patrick and Nolan were making repairs to a bridge, made the connection in her mind. While she was wrestling in her heart between her fierce passion for animals, and that of the outdoors, staying inside at a shelter could not compete with the morning light of Smith Rock. She contacted Ranger Josie Barnum asking how she could help.
While the group training for the role of Trail Ambassador was still 2-3 months out, Amy proposed picking up dog poop in the park. Ranger Josie lit up. Unfortunately, many visitors still believe there are poop fairies that mysteriously appear at night to take care of their animals’ leftovers, even those who bag it up and leave it by the trail.
On Amy’s first day on “Poop Patrol” she bagged up 30 separate piles and carried it for 6 miles. Amy says she picks up trash every day, even the days she’s not officially working. She calls it “a curse, that she sees all things that are an affront to nature, especially cigarette butts,” something she can’t believe people actually do in the park, given the fuel that can be ignited by one small spark.
What are her duties as a Trail Ambassador? Well, first and foremost, to be there for you. On her rounds she is asked a million questions, from geology to the rock climbing history as well as the naming of Smith Rock. She is feverishly consuming knowledge from experts in all fields to be able to be the best resource she can, including volunteering with Chockstone Climbing Guides as a mock client for training purposes. She soaked up climbing history with pioneer Alan Watts on his recent walking tour during the American Alpine Club’s Smith Rock Craggin’ Classic.
Other duties of a Trail Ambassador include reporting things that need attention on the trail, especially after a big storm, when tree branches and rockfall are prevalent. Sometimes things that need attention include people. Amy has been the first on the scene in several rescues, calling authorities for help and remaining with the injured until help arrives. She also does her best to help avert potential rescues, such as checking on Misery Ridge hikers for proper footwear and sufficient hydration, and suggests alternate routes to maximize shade on hot summer days.
One thing she loves to do? Give kids stickers. She loves to see their faces light up when she does. That’s because it’s a reflection of the kid in her, always full of wonder, always ready for her next connection with a stranger with questions.