If you know me “offline,” you know that I’ve been on a quest for some time to put together a work life that is compatible with my climbing life. As part of this effort, I’ve started harassing other climbers who have work lives that I think would be interesting to me. One of those individuals is Jason Keith, Policy Director for the Access Fund. If you’re not already a member of the Access Fund, join. By joining the Access Fund, you are helping to protect and conserve climbing areas. Seven bucks a month is a bargain.
Anyway – back to Jason Keith…
Jason has been with the Access Fund since about 2001. He landed there through a lead from his personal network — a friend was a board member, and encouraged him to apply for what was, at that time, a policy analyst position. Since then, Jason has been “cranking away ever since,” and his role has evolved into policy director. Jason is responsible for advocacy work in government and political circles, which means time spent at his home base in Moab, UT; part of the year spent in Mazama, WA (where I have yet to sample the tasty climbing); and a fair amount of time in the other Washington (D.C.).
As happens, when I talk to other climbers, our conversation starts with climbing and eventually winds around to whatever else we intended to talk about. Jason grew up in North Seattle and spent summers growing up in Mazama — he says that the climbing in Mazama is good but that he’s a little biased because he’s spent so much time there and has so much history there. He has been climbing all his life (since about eight years old); his dad dragged him up death marches in the Cascades when he was a kid. From there, his love of mountains and climbing took him to Jackson, Wyoming where he was a mountain guide in the Tetons and did international guiding across the Alps, Nepal, and Everest. Jason enjoyed guiding, but realized that he needed “something more” for when he “got old” and his knees blew out, so he went back to school.
School consisted of a masters degree in public lands policy, followed by law school. In 2000, Jason received his J.D. and went to work practicing water and property law in Glenwood Springs, CO.
Like most of us law school survivors, Jason went into law school with altruistic and idealistic goals — his aim was to be involved in environmental protection and conservation. Also like most of us law school survivors, Jason wound up somewhere else — handling water rights issues for golf courses. It was at this point that a friend suggested he apply for the policy analysis position with the Access Fund, and the rest is history.
Jason confirmed that the appeal of his work with the Access Fund were the political and advocacy aspects; he had done a lot of volunteering and had been in the outdoor industry prior to this gig. When he went to work with the Access Fund, he felt the job would be a pretty good marriage of his interest in climbing, his advocacy interests, and his skill set obtained through his higher education.
I didn’t ask Jason specifically if he’s happy with his job, or how it allowed him to balance work and climbing and life — but he sure sounds happy. Unlike most conversations I have with climbers, we actually spoke more about some of the initiatives he’s working on and excited about than we spoke about climbing. Jason has been working hard with the Outdoor Alliance, a multi-user-group alliance of organizations (including the Access Fund) formed to ensure the conservation and stewardship of our nation’s land and waters through the promotion of sustainable, human-powered recreation. OA gives recreational organizations a stronger voice in Washington DC — the theory, which seems to be holding true, is that by working together the various recreational user groups can do more both for conservation, and to preserve access to recreational areas for us outdoorsy types. When Jason talks about his work, he has that contagious enthusiasm and energy that I’ve only ever heard in the voices of people who live and work what they love.
Jason’s advice to folks who would like to follow in his footsteps is to gain experience and understand out the systems work — industry, government, nonprofit entities — and specifically, to “learn Washington D.C.” He emphasized the importance of fostering mentors and relationships with folks, if you’re going to ultimately try to persuade someone that you can provide value to their policy efforts.
Jason also confirmed something that I’ve seen in my own life and work — the importance of being in the right place at the right time. Jason landing at AF “was just a total flue of timing and opportunity,” he observed, “I never set out to do this job. I always thought I would be involved in advocacy work on the conservation side. When I figured out I could do that and work related to climbing, it made a lot of sense.”
He sees opportunities both at the national and regional levels for folks who’d like to get involved with public lands and conservation issues. That’s good news for those of us who think that Jason may just have the world’s greatest job.
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