Name: Jaimie Matzko
Company: A Walk in the Woods
Title: Senior Guide
Location: Cosby, TN
Tell me about A Walk in the Woods.
Our mission statement is about promoting environmental awareness through direct positive experiences in nature, and we do that through a variety of programs. We offer overnight backpacking trips, basecamp hiking trips, very short nature programs, all-day hikes, hikes to Mt. Leconte as well as shuttle services for people hiking on their own in the park. I really feel that we offer a wide variety of opportunities for people to get outdoors to experience the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
What was your path to a career in the outdoor industry?
I grew up in central Ohio and wasn’t a part of a very outdoorsy family. We would go camping at our local state parks in Ohio, but I started going to the Hocking Hills area to hike with friends and it got me more interested in learning about the outdoors. I wanted to learn about trees, plants and animals which led me to a community college in Southeast Ohio called Hocking College, which was a field-based community college. We had a nature center on site. My degree was in natural and cultural interpretation.
It really got me excited that there was a role within the park system that was about education. Originally, I thought if you want to work in the parks you have to be a park ranger. But I learned there are different types of park rangers; there are those who do law enforcement and those who focus on education. So that was my goal, then I started working with Tremont in the Smokies and I realized I can do this education in and around the national park in a different capacity and I can give people different experiences where I am not just taking them on short walks, but there is an opportunity to spend multiple days with people in the mountains, which you don’t necessarily end up doing when you work for the park service.
What do you do in the off-season?
Our slow season is in November-December, and our real off-season is January and February. However, we’re promoting a new trip through REI Adventures to the Everglades that includes paddling and snorkeling.
I do a lot administrative stuff. I contribute content and photos on our website; I’m putting together an e-newsletter; sometimes I put together brochures; I put orders in for backpacking food, so there is always something to do. During the off-season we are playing catch up.
But we do also take time to travel and enjoy life. My parents live in southern Florida…My husband and I spend a lot of time backpacking. I’ve been to 22 national parks. It’s a very flexible schedule in the winter. Next year is our 20th anniversary so I’m already looking at where we want to take a trip.
What’s the most rewarding part of having a job in the outdoor industry?
I honestly think it’s the people we get to meet. Of course, I love the fact that I get to work outdoors, but meeting so many different people that are also well traveled [and from all over the world] is pretty amazing. Also, seeing the transformation of people after a few days in the wilderness and being able to help shape that and seeing them get the passion for the Smokies is the most rewarding part.
What’s the most frustrating part?
I know for some, the schedule constantly changing and not knowing how many hours you will get can get frustrating. It keeps a lot of people out of this field, but I thrive on it. Still by the end of the season I am kind of ready for more of a routine.
Tell me about your experience being a woman in the outdoor industry
I have had a lot of great experiences being a woman in the industry. The women’s trips have become so popular and I love leading those trips. I will say it does have it challenges. On the trail I’m not always treated with respect, especially among people who are not in my group. One time we showed up to an AT shelter, someone asked me ‘what did you do to get this job?’ I can tell you my husband who is also a trail guide has never had anybody ask him that. I feel fortunate that I have accolades and I’ve worked hard to be here, so I have a good answer for it! “You know, REI Adventures named me one of the top guides in 2017 from around the world. I deserve to be here.”
What is your favorite part of the outdoors?
Being in the wilderness. In everyday life we hear car sounds; we’re looking at our phones; we’re just distracted. My favorite part about the outdoors is it gives people a chance to get away from those things. Even if it’s just a day hike, you’re focused on your immediate needs not all those other things in life that can be stressful. When you get people outdoors it reminds them that there is a whole other part of life that isn’t traffic jams and emails, the things that people think of as ‘real life.’