Meet Our Crew: AnnaKate Hein
From visiting the bottom of the Earth to building Camp Backcountry from the ground up, our programs supervisor, AnnaKate Hein.
It's been six years since AnnaKate Hein headed west from New England and started her environmental education work with the HRCA Backcountry Wilderness Area. Since she took the reins of the Backcountry Wilderness Area's programs and the summer camp with less than 100 kids enrolled each summer, AnnaKate—the programs supervisor—now oversees all of the programs as well as Camp Backcountry which now serves more than 1,000 local youth annually. We caught up with AnnaKate to find out why she does her job and what she hopes kids (and the world) get out of the environmental education in the Backcountry Wilderness Area.
You moved to the Front Range knowing you wanted to work in environmental education. What brought you out West? I grew up in Georgia, went to the University of Georgia ... and actually studied music. I played trombone in the Redcoat marching band. Then, I did my master's at Vermont Law School in Environmental Law and Policy. Upon getting that degree, I wanted to focus on human impacts on the environment. I soon decided to pursue this through education instead of policy.
Were you always interested in teaching kids?
Yes, but in a different capacity. I originally was studying music education and wanted to teach middle school, before I switched my focus to policy and the environment. I started with teaching kids in the forest at Nature's Classroom in Connecticut, where I discovered my passion for teaching about the environment. I knew from then on I wanted to teach. I moved to Rhode Island and worked at Save the Bay for a few years through an AmeriCorp program. My now-husband and I took a big leap and moved to Colorado for it's outdoor lifestyle. I knew I would need to learn a whole new eco-system in the West. When I got this job, it was my dream job. The Backcountry Wilderness Area is a quite a different landscape than what you're used to in coastal New England. What did you think the first time you looked around after you started here in 2015? The first time I got a tour of the Backcountry Wilderness Area, it took hours. I was amazed by the massive clearings in the pines that open to rolling terrain. It's incredibly beautiful and very different from Georgia and New England. I learned it's easy to get lost in the scrub oak and got turned around in my first year learning to navigate the property.
It's understandable, thirteen square miles is a big piece of wild land. As you explore and learn about the Backcountry Wilderness Area, what do you think still surprises people about it?
People are shocked when they find out there are mountain lions and bears in Highlands Ranch. But, even more than that, it surprises people to know that we have more than 500 individual kids that spend a portion/or all of their summer exploring with us at Camp Backcountry.
As more families choose to make Camp Backcountry part of the fabric of their kid's summer and school breaks, what is the biggest hope for what time in the Backcountry Wilderness Area—and the outdoors in general—accomplishes?
From an environmental standpoint and general growth, I get to see kids go from young kids to teenagers. I get to watch them grow a passion for nature and knowledge of the environment. My ultimate hope is that kids will love the outdoors. Wherever they start when they get to us, I want them to walk away with increased appreciation for natural places which will lead to future conservation. It all starts in a local place.
Trail Talk: Get to Know AnnaKate Hein
What kind of hiker are you? Wanderer? Summit-reacher? Trail scientist? I am a wanderer. It’s fun to push yourself to a summit, but if I had my choice I’d hike just to be in nature.
What's your favorite trail/adventure snack? I like food so much, how do I pick one? Energy balls with peanut butter and dates.
What's your best outdoors blooper that ended happily?
In 2019, I was doing a four-night standup paddleboarding trip on the Dolores River in Western Colorado. All of my gear for the trip was packed on my paddleboard. There was a tricky rapid, I fell off, and my paddleboard snagged in brush on a debris island in the middle of the river. I had to release my board down river and climb onto the island until the group figured out how to get me off. My husband was able to catch my paddleboard downriver and then get back upstream to help get me off of the island. This was the first time in 10 years anyone was able to float down this section of the Dolores River. Everyone was safe, but it was a scary situation.
What are the three things you have in your adventure backpack on every excursion? Appropriately packed first aid kit, knife, a good pair of boots (my Salomon hiking boots are my favorite)…and food.
What's the most exciting thing to happen to you in the last year?
We added a tiny adventure buddy to our family in October. We can't wait to share our love of nature and outdoor adventure with him.
What's the easiest thing you do in your daily life to protect our environment? Advocating for greater change within your community. Invite and educate others about ways they can make a difference. And, eat less meat.
What wild animal have you always wanted to see ... from a safe distance?
Out West, a mountain lion. In the ocean, shortfin mako sharks. I'd love to swim with them.
What's something you do in your job that would surprise people? I get to help teach high school students to present themselves and communicate professionally through our Camp Backcountry Leaders-in-Training program.
Where/what is your bucket list adventure? Rafting the Grand Canyon and going to the Arctic. I don’t like being cold, but I’m fascinated by cold environments.
What are you listening to or reading right now? Little Fires Everywhere
Where is the most "wild" place you've been? Antarctica in 2008 for an ecology study abroad program.
Outside of work, what's your choice way to get outdoors?
Summer is my favorite. I would live an eternal summer living on the river. Nothing beats sitting with friends and family around a riverside campfire.
What's your favorite way to pass time when you are on a long adventure?
I love searching for signs of wildlife. I like doing adventures with other people but I enjoy my quiet time. I like to appreciate what's around me whether it's a new fish, a dragonfly, or larger wildlife.