Trailblazers: Russ and Janice Ashleman

by Kelly Sanderbeck, Donor Engagement Manager

NPS photo Wildflowers Rainier
Courtesy of NPS

Every Friday during the summer and fall, you can find Russ and Janice Ashleman heading to Sunrise at Mount Rainier for their weekly stint as volunteer Meadow Rovers. And they set out EARLY, rising at 4:00am to arrive by 8! Their role as Meadow Rovers is to improve protection of the subalpine meadows at Mount Rainier (specifically at Sunrise) through visitor education. “People are wonderful, but keeping them on the trail and being diplomatic about it is certainly a learned skill. That is always a challenge as people see things they want to inspect, want to take photographs, or just think it’s okay to walk anywhere.” Those volunteer hours used to translate to even more for the parks because Boeing, Russ’s former employer, matched those volunteer hours with a matching cash donation to the Fund. “But now we donate directly to the Fund to make up for the loss.” While he was still working, he would do four 10-hour work days so he could have Fridays off. Janice still works per diem at Children’s Hospital.

While Meadow Roving, Russ, the quieter of the two, likes to wait to talk to people until he gets past Frozen Lake, preferring the hard-core hikers to the tourists. But they both enjoy being able to point out interesting sites, banks of wildflowers, and herds of goats to tourists and regulars alike. They feel they are able to bring a lot of enrichment to people who are out enjoying the Sunrise area. In addition, Russ has climbed Rainier so he can answer questions about what that’s like. Seeing animals up on the trails is an added bonus, as well. Last year they saw a young scraggly bear crossing the path and had to stop visitors on the popular Sourdough Ridge trail above the visitor center. And they once saw a red fox with something in its mouth, which turned out to be a fat squirrel from visitor handouts at Frozen Lake.

“Meadow Rovers are also looking for permits on the packs of people who appear to be loaded up for an overnight trip in the backcountry. Once we got a very evasive answer from a couple who did not have a permit. When asked “Where are you headed?” one woman just responded, “Oh, out and about.” (She was later cited by a ranger for not having a backcountry permit.) This was before they were officially allowed to ask; after this couple was sent back, they were given permission to ask. One of the strangest things that happened was when Russ thought he had found someone with no permit on the trail to Skyscraper Mountain. She was wearing a large backpack and a Department of Interior hat (which he hadn’t noticed), but had no permit displayed. He asked to see a permit and she said she was told that she didn’t need one. She was Deputy Superintendent Tracy Swartout!!

“You talk to a lot of people. Some of them ask, “How old are you?” and some ask, “How do you become a Meadow Rover?” You learn something new every year. Sometimes what you learn are new rules for employee and volunteer safety. Maureen Mclean who coordinates the volunteer program provides training each spring, listens to and supports her volunteers’ concerns.”

One of the most interesting things that happened while they were volunteering was when a couple of young women came up to them at Burroughs and gave Russ and Janice cupcakes, candles and matches. They asked them to approach the larger group and sing “Happy Birthday.” (They lit the candles but they kept blowing out and had to have help from the rest of the group with the singing. Russ admits to being “not much of a singer.”)

AshlemanMeadowRover photo NPS“We enjoy being able to talk to visitors from other parts of the country (like the small group of men who flew in to SeaTac, rented a car and drove up to Sunrise during a snow storm in October, dressed in their boots and shorts to hike to Burroughs). We’ve also met many international visitors. We can recognize those from the UK and have fun discussions about where we’ve all walked there. We also enjoyed the number of visitors who visited during the centennial, especially those fourth graders who brought their parents to the park with Sally Jewell’s free park passes. That was a great program and we would like to see it continued. These kids’ discovery and love of the parks will be needed for the National Parks’ future.”

Russ and Janice were already making a regular habit of hiking in Mount Rainier and other parks when someone suggested they spend some of that time volunteering. This year they will celebrate their seventh year as Meadow Rovers. They usually go up and back home (to Seattle) the same day. Sometimes they stay over and camp at White River Campground, especially when there’s a volunteer picnic on the weekend.

Russ grew up hiking in Western Washington; Janice is from eastern Washington and didn’t hike until she met Russ, but led an active outdoors life. They took many hikes after marrying and then continued with their young son, who continues that tradition at his home in Montana.

They both hope for more funding for the parks, especially for building and infrastructure needs. “There is a huge need in this area and you can see it every day in aging facilities.” They note that there has been work every year on trails at Sunrise by volunteer organizations such as Washington Trails Association and NW Youth Corps. They have hope that future administrations will be able to address some of the $12 billion backlog of maintenance in our parks nationwide. “The parks are so underfunded and that’s a shame. You rarely see the same staff members two years in a row.” They are aware of many animal studies going on in the park, but would like to see some done with the goat population, as they have not seen researchers looking at the large herds you encounter up at Sunrise.

RJAshleman5When Russ and Janice are not volunteering, you can find them hiking all over England for six weeks each spring, which they have been doing for the last 25 years. One of their favorite spots is Lundy Island – full of cormorants, puffins, one farmer and NO NEWS! They also enjoy camping in back of their Subaru, especially on outings with their local astronomy club. Fireside Circles and Discovery Group events have connected them with the Fund over the last few years, and they just joined the Over the Top Society. They are very excited to attend the auction this year since it’s new, earlier date (April 7) is before they leave for England. Thank you, Russ and Janice, for ALL you do for our parks!