The Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation has a new leader in Bill Hodge. Hodge, 54, is no stranger to wilderness stewardship — he founded the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards in 2010 and it’s been going strong ever since.
Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards is a conservation non-profit dedicated to providing stewardship to protected public lands in the Southern Appalachian region, which includes areas in Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky.
Hodge grew up tromping around in the woods with his family in western North Carolina and Indiana. In an interview last week, he recalled a trip to Glacier National Park with his family when he was 13 or 14. They hiked up to Apgar Lookout and saw fresh grizzly scat and tracks along the way. So fresh, in fact, that “the flies hadn’t even found it” Hodge said with a smile. Little did they know how close they had come to a face-to-face encounter with a sow and her cubs. A party behind them had and the sow had even stood up on her hind legs to get a better look at them. Park rangers closed the trail, but the Hodges didn’t know it until they got back to the trailhead and saw the rope and sign over the trail.
Park rangers had closed the trail and the Hodges were still on it.
While public lands have always brought joy and adventure, Hodge’s own career took a turn in college. He aimed to be a forestry major, but switched to communications. Once out of college he did play-by-play sports broadcasting for 15 years and then another 10 in sports media relations and advertising with Access Sports Media.
But he left the corporate world behind and founded Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards, which brought a host of wilderness users and advocates together. The East doesn’t have the huge wilderness regions like the West, he notes. All 64 wilderness areas under Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards make up just about one-third of the acreage of the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Still, his work in the wilderness realm brought him many times to Montana for conferences and other meetings, though he admits he has never set foot into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, at least not yet.
Then again, he’s only been on the job for four days. After tying up some loose ends back East, he’ll start here permanently in mid-May.
While SAWS and BMWF are very similar, Hodge said BMWF does a fantastic job of coordinating and working with volunteer groups and people.
“I want to build on the legacy the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation already has,” he said.
BMWF does a host of projects in the 1.5 million-acre complex, from opening trails to pulling weeds to, more recently, an apprentice packer program that teaches younger folks how to become professional stock packers.
Hodge’s wife, Laura, is also a wilderness advocate.
She’s spent the better part of the past 10 years working for and advocating for the Tennessee Wildernesss Act, which just recently protected about 20,000 acres of land on the Cherokee National Forest, including lands along the Bald River.
While the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation is not an advocacy group, good stewardship of existing wilderness is equally important, Hodge noted.
In his work in the East, for example, Hodge has worked with inner city youth, bringing them to the woods to learn about public lands and stewardship.
Engaging youth and diversity is paramount to the future health of wilderness and public lands. People from all walks of life need to know the land to love it, Hodge noted.