Published January 6, 2017

How Ultra-Runners and Climbers Are Blazing Trails in Science

So, you like adventure and the outdoors. Why not do something useful with the impulse? That’s the idea behind Gregg Treinish’s group Adventure Scientists.

“There’s tens of thousands of people that go outside every single day,” Treinish says, and he’s one of them. “I just so desperately wanted to be making a difference with my time outside. I think a lot of people share that same feeling.” He talks about his evolution from trailblazing adventurer to scientific matchmaker with host Richard Bacon on the National Geographic Channel’s Explorer, which airs TKTK.

In 2008, Treinish was named an Adventurer of the Year for his trek with Deia Schlosberg along the 7,800-mile (12,552-kilometer) spine of the Andes mountains, bypassing roads as often as possible. “Less than 5 percent of our route … had been on a trail or written about beforehand,” Treinish says of the two-year journey. “The best map that we had for Peru was a 1:1 million-scale wall map—the kind that would hang in your classroom for your social studies class or something.”

About two years later, Treinish founded Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, now known as Adventure Scientists. The nonprofit serves as a sort of switchboard to connect scientists who need data with adventurers who could collect it.

The work led to Treinish—who has bachelor’s degrees in sociology and biology and hiked the entire Appalachian Trail in 2004—being named an Emerging Explorer in 2013.

So far, he says, his group has collected the highest known plant life on the planet at Mount Everest; worked to reduce roadkill by mapping wildlife travel patterns and collisions with vehicles; and sampled snow and ice above 20,000 feet to help better understand glacial melting.

Watch: Bar Talk With Bacon

Explorer host Richard Bacon sits down with Gregg Treinish, an adventurer and conservationist who deploys outdoor enthusiasts all over the world to gather data to help protect our environment.

“We’ve had species listed as critically imperiled partially because of our work,” he tells Bacon, referring to a survey of Pacific Marten in the Olympic National Forest. In each case, Adventure Scientists partners with conservation groups, academia, or even “a government that’s really interested in making better choices.”

The project listings on Adventure Scientists’ website tend to call for volunteers with “strong outdoor skills” or those who “hike, mountain bike, backpack or paddle in remote areas,” for example. A recent endeavor recruited ultra-runners to travel long distances across northeastern Utah to check camera traps for signs of scarce wolverines. “I like the feeling of being where most people feel it’s too difficult to get,” says one of the trail-running volunteers.

But not everyone needs to be a diehard adventurer.  The group has also worked with kids, teachers, military veterans and families on vacation as part of its mission to create a network of volunteers who become ambassadors for the places they work. Treinish, a self-described “horrible teenager,” has said that being in the wilderness helped him divert his energy from troublemaking to good things.

At one point in a short film about his work, Treinish mentions that a kid on one of their outings had a meltdown, throwing his things into a waterway and wanting to hurt himself. “I was a pretty sad kid. I’ve been there,” he says, his voice breaking. “It feels really good to be able to be there for him and get that.”

The demands of running a nonprofit mean Treinish, who is based in Bozeman, Montana, has less time to spend outdoors these days. “People ask me about that struggle all the time and my response is always the same,” he tells Bacon. “I’m magnifying my impact in a way that is really, really important and that can make a huge difference in this planet. So that is all that matters for me.”

On Twitter: Follow Christina Nunez and get more environment and energy coverage at NatGeo.


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