Long-time Oregon resident Lloyd Athearn realized the mountains of Colorado were calling after discovering a job opening for the American Alpine Club in 1996. He was working as a health risk communicator and legislative liaison for the State of Oregon. “I was the intersection between the scientists, media and legislators helping get out the technical message in a comprehensive way for the general public to understand,” says Athearn. He had always loved the outdoors and accepting the job of Deputy Director for the AAC seemed a natural fit. “It was an opportunity to turn my avocation into my profession. It afforded me the chance to work with elite climbers and to help protect mountains that were incredibly important to me,” he said.
After 10 years with the AAC, Athearn felt his heart was more in the preservation of the land rather than advocating on behalf of climbers. “I wanted to get away from policy and round out my skills by working in the fundraising side of an organization,” said Athearn.
Photo: Lloyd Athearn (center in vest) and CFI's core staff
Athearn accepted a job working for skilled fundraiser Will Shafroth, formerly the first executive director for Great Outdoors of Colorado and currently President and CEO of the National Parks Foundation. At the time Shafroth was Executive Director of the Colorado Conservation Trust. He hired Athean as his Deputy Director where he focused on fundraising and communications. “Will was a genius at getting to know people and the causes that motivated them. I learned how to ‘listen to the ask’ and how to connect people to causes,” says Athearn. However, after Shafroth’s departure from the Trust, Athearn felt it was time to return to the mountains.
The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative was struggling and almost ready to close its doors. They were looking for a new leader. “I thought I had been advised at how bad things were, but discovered it was even worse,” said Athearn. Despite the challenges, he accepted the job as CFI’s Executive Director. That was the easy part. He spent on average six days a week for several years working to get the organization back in shape.
The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative builds and maintains Colorado’s 14er summit trails and educates hikers coming from all parts of the world to climb. They also track use trends and impacts to the trails to stay ahead of damage on the 14ers.
Fourteen years into his leadership Athearn and the CFI have been recognized by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife agency, the US Forest Service and the national Coalition for Recreational Trails for the quality and quantity of their work. The organization is considered one of the national leaders in technical trail building. Says Athearn, “At the time I went to college, there weren’t all of these jobs in the outdoor industry. There weren’t causes like this. REI had three stores and now they have 179 stores. I got into a field as it was taking off and had a career that I never even knew existed.”
When I had my 13th birthday in Yosemite, I had a magical day backpacking over this high mountain pass,” says Athearn. “I was excited about the mountain world. I have been able to combine all of these different things that I love to do—the technical skills in communications and policy analysis and marrying them up with causes I care about. Over a career, I am able to say, wow, I get to do something that fires me up almost every single day.”