Hike the Hill: Day 4 Update

By Bruce Matthews, NCTA Executive Director


Wednesday featured another busy day of Hill visits and federal agency meetings for NCTA Director of Trail Development Andrea Ketchmark and myself. A beautiful day in DC–sunny, cloudless and low 50’s–as a contrast to our rugged red plaid north country winters…well, maybe less so this year!

Anyway, visiting Members of Congress is an interesting thing. Every year I get to visit 20 to 30 offices of Senators and Representatives from the 7 states and 43 Congressional Districts through which the North Country Trail passes. This is my 5th Hike the Hill. In my previous job I lived in DC (7 years) and got to know the drill pretty well.

Some folks think we go to DC to meet with the Members themselves, which in my experience is a pretty rare thing. And, as I’ve learned, probably a good thing. You meet with “staffers,” individuals from Member staffs with job titles like legislative correspondent or assistant, and occasionally the legislative director. They’re the ones doing the legwork formulating the Members’ positions on legislation, issues and so on. You get the right one who handles
environment/conservation/recreation/natural resources policy issues, you build a relationship (hoping they stay in their job long enough to make it matter) and you work at it like any other relationship, with good communication, honest sharing of views, and eventually requests for action from their boss in supporting legislation or appropriations.

You do these visits long enough and you start learning some things. You learn which Members value constituent input enough to adopt a real customer service attitude. You learn who truly respects the democratic process and the citizen involvement/engagement necessary, and who just gives it lip service. You learn who respects people. You learn who you can count on, if not for support all the time at least for an honest response. You learn who is interested in a relationship, and who really values the work we do as an organization of volunteers committed to citizen stewardship and a legacy activity that’s more likely to benefit our grandkids than ourselves. You learn who cares.

We’ll leave DC with a greater understanding of today’s political landscape and what its going to take to get the job done for the NCTA and NCNST. Tomorrow I’ll blog about our takeaways, what we learned and what we’re likely to see regarding NCTA’s agenda.

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