Wild Woman: Leave No Trace Trainer Liz Lunderman
Growing up in the Adirondacks of New York, Liz Lunderman got a small taste of the outdoors—and got a bigger taste when she moved to Washington in her mid-twenties and started mountain biking and split boarding. Before moving to Bremerton west of Seattle, Liz did some world traveling, both for herself and as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania. While her volunteer stint was a mixed experience, traveling and her love of the outdoors inspired her to pass that passion on to young girls by developing outdoor programming for the Girl Scouts. Read on to learn more about this adventurous woman!
Where did you grow up? What was your relationship like to the outdoors growing up?
Liz: I grew up in upstate New York, and I started getting outside with the Girl Scouts. My mom was my troop leader and she really wanted to focus on all the outdoor badges so we did a lot of camping, hiking, and we would go up to the Adirondacks and climb mountains and whatnot. That was kind of the first spark in my love for the outdoors.
What’s your relationship like to the outdoors now?
Liz: The intro to the outdoors was relatively smaller doing low-risk activities. As I grew up and went to college, I found this film Pretty Faces by Lyndsey Dyer; I saw this cool ski woman doing badass things and could see myself for the first time backcountry skiing and mountain biking. It wasn’t until I was 26 and living in Washington state that I bought a mountain bike and a split board and took an Avy 1 course and really started finding other women doing similar things and getting out there—not just going with the guys and having to keep up with them. I guess through that I’ve also seen a huge growth in confidence in my professional and personal life. Going down black-diamond trails on your bike is pretty thrilling and looking back like, holy shit I can’t believe I just did it.
Tell me in your words what Leave No Trace means? Why is it important?
Liz: My relationship to land and outdoors has really changed in the past few years I think, I really took on this white colonized view of land and thinking that it was just a playground for myself. But in the last few years and really listening to indigenous cultures and following the BLM movement a little more closely, being able to leave no trace has changed a lot for me. As a trainer when working with the Girl Scouts, not only are we teaching the set of principals but also how do we show up and not police for people and when can those 7 principals show up in a healthy way and where does the history of LNT stem from and who created that and what that can look like for different cultures.
Tell me about the outdoor programming you develop for the Girl Scouts? How did you get involved with them? What kind of outdoor programming?
Liz: Right when I got back from the Peace Corp I wanted to continue my work educating young leaders and when I found the Girl Scouts and realized that I could work for them and not just be a girl and sell cookies, I found their outdoor department. Now I develop programming (virtually for the time being) for 18,000 girls to help peak their interest in the outdoors and trying sports they might not have thought were for them in the first place maybe because of representation or access.
Why do you think it’s important to teach about these lessons at a young age?
Liz: I think that stems back to the core of the Girl Scouts mission which is to build girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place. Girls have more opportunities in STEM, entrepreneurship, and leadership than ever before. Bu the message they still get is that their appearance is important, but when you’re outside the walls of society melt away. It’s an opportunity to step out and really build their courage and that enhances their confidence.
There’s a lot of different components to our outdoor program. Pre-COVID, we had interest programs so they would be like, one-hour sessions with different organizations like nature centers and whatnot in California and then weekend programs where girls learn hard outdoor skills—knots, knives, outdoor cooking, and more elevated programming like backpacking, whitewater rafting, sea kayaking, mountain biking. Now with the pandemic we’re doing virtual programs like how to build their own expeditions and lead a troop in the backcountry, risk management, and navigation skills like using a compass and map.
What outdoor activities do you like to do?
Liz: Split boarding and mountain biking. I’m just getting into split boarding. I have two really close girlfriends who I bike with, we call ourselves “sturdy lerdies.” We all get out together and have great male allies that teach us about bike mechanics and we teach each other. It’s a great community to get into a sport that doesn’t traditionally have a lot of women.
What have been some of your favorite outdoor experiences/places you’ve travelled?
Liz: I don’t believe in favorites, but one of the most pinnacle experiences for me was the first time I climbed a mountain in the Adirondacks. I didn’t know what hiking boots were so I just brought along my tennis shoes. It was fall so there was ton of ice and snow on the mountain. Instead of my friend’s mom saying I didn’t have right gear, we put trash bags on my feet and duct-taped them onto my pants and put tennis shoes over it and I climbed that mountain. Just standing there, I was so proud of myself. It was my biggest accomplishment of middle school and having that experience really created this shock wave of why I want to work with younger women and girls to get them out there and feel those serendipitous moments you can find on trail.
For the longest time my parents were like, you should be a doctor, so I studied genomics in college and when I graduated, I realized it wasn’t my passion. I didn’t find purpose in it and I think that does happen for a lot of women in STEM careers because more women want to have an impact on their community. I love traveling—I lived abroad in Australia and Vietnam and I love learning new languages. When I went in the Peace Corp I was excited to learn more about Africa and Tanzania. There were a lot of big lessons in the Peace Corp.
What’s your favorite trail snack?
Liz: Probably Swedish Fish.