Ask Mrs. Trails: Lucy Cohen
Lucy is a Trails Technician with Parks and Recreation and a wonderful partner with the Portland Pathway Program. We talked with her about how she made a 180 turn in her career from working an office job in the Empire State Building to became a trails technician in Arizona, her unique view of connection between trails and sculpture art, and her favorite trail in the region.
What do you do as a Trails Technician at Parks and Recreation?
I spend most of my time outdoors working on trails. We’re in charge of maintaining trails in natural areas in the city, so it’s less urban than city parks. We work on things like trimming bushes encroaching on the trail, repairing damaged surface, etc. I really like that my job brings me outside a lot, but it can definitely be a challenge when it’s pouring rain in winter.
There are only two technicians and one coordinator on our team, but we maintain about 180 miles of trails in total on both sides of the river. We rely heavily on volunteers and community partners like Forest Park Conservancy and SW Trails. I lead regular work parties with volunteers.
What do you like most about your job?
I like the sculpture aspect of trails the most. I studied environmental science and visual art in college. I’m fascinated by the way trails flow through the landscape and become part of the view. We also use rocks and wood to build retaining walls, and that feels like sculpturing as well.
I also really like working with volunteers and community partners. There is so much enthusiasm from people and it makes working on trails even better.
How did you get into trails as a professional?
I just fell into it by accident! Believe it or not, I was working an office job in New York City, actually in the Empire State Building. I felt really stressed out and felt like I was going a little crazy in the city, so I applied for a trails conservation position with AmeriCorps in Arizona. I got the job and really liked it. Later, I moved to the Pacific Northwest to lead youth crew that worked on backcountry trails. The youth I worked with came from high-risk backgrounds, so it was challenging at times, but ultimately very satisfying because we could focus on the manual work and work through some challenges in their life together in the wilderness.
When I moved to Portland, I first worked for Forest Park Conservancy for four, five years. Then I got this job with the City a couple years ago. AmeriCorps is a really great opportunity for young people to learn new skills and start a career.
What’s your favorite trail?
Wild Wood Trail in Forest Park is definitely my favorite. I worked on this trail for about eight years, which is about 30.2 miles. I have hiked through it a couple of times, and it takes me about 11 to 13 hours, depending how I’m feeling. My coworker and I hiked through this trail last December right after it snowed. The trail was covered in fresh snow and it was so magical!
What’s your advice to people who are interested in getting involved in trails work?
My advice is: do it! There are so many opportunities for people interested in trails. If you’re interested in working as a trail professional, volunteer first to try it out. AmeriCorps is also a good place to start for young people.
If you’re new to Portland, volunteering for trails is a great way to get to know the region and feel connected to the nature. You’d also meet a lot of people at work parties.
We have many volunteering opportunities at Parks and Rec. We lead work parties with community organizations such as SW Trails, Friends with Markham Nature Park, Friends of Woods Memorial Park, and Powell Butte. You can find our volunteer events on the Stewardship Calendar.
Where would people find you when you’re not on trails?
I like to bike around the city and explore beautiful regional trails.
(Interview conducted by Qingyang Xie)