Suzanne at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Texas
uzanne Dixon, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s (ATC) new president and CEO, walks into the room confidently. She takes a seat, leans in and says, “Hey, y’all. I’m here to learn all I can.” It’s her twinge of Irish brogue that tips you off to Suzanne’s Irish upbringing. Just as her fancy cowboy boots give a nod to her work in Texas. Prior to becoming the ATC’s CEO/president, Suzanne worked on behalf of 16 national park units in Texas where she impressively achieved World Heritage Site status for San Antonio Missions and, just as impressively, secured a presidential designation to create Waco Mammoth National Monument. One thing about Suzanne is that she is not easily stereotyped so A.T. Journeys (ATJ) decided to start our Q&A session asking about her boots.
ATJ: LET’S TALK ABOUT THE COWBOY BOOTS AND YOUR IRISH HERITAGE.
SD: (Laughing, and then getting serious). I suppose you could say I’m all about immersing myself, giving myself fully, to the work I do. I grew up in Ireland in the County Kildare in a village of less than 2,000 people surrounded by spectacularly scenic countryside. I moved to the States two decades ago and, within a short period of time, found myself working on behalf of national parks. It wasn’t a stretch to join my childhood experiences and appreciation for beautiful places with America’s national parks. And, for the record, whenever I can, I lace up my hiking boots.
Suzanne (middle) at the designation of Waco Mammoth National Monument with former National Park Service director Jon Jarvis, CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association Theresa Pierno, Former First Lady Laura Bush, and National Parks Conservation Association program manager Erika Pelletier. Photo by Bob Howen
ATJ: WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT CREATING A WORLD HERITAGE SITE AND A NATIONAL MONUMENT?
SD: Both took years and considerable work to achieve. Plus, both required building strong coalitions of supportive voices. I was fortunate to work with a broad spectrum of people — people like former First Lady Laura Bush — to help disadvantaged youth in Brownsville, Texas. I strongly believe that everyone who wants a seat at the table in protecting America’s treasures should be given a place at the table.
ATJ: WHY DID YOU TAKE THE POSITION AS ATC’S PRESIDENT AND CEO?
SD: The mission of protecting the Trail corridor and the Trail’s surrounding landscapes certainly appealed to me. The A.T. corridor travels along one of the most important land features in the eastern United States. I believe there are great opportunities we must pursue now to make certain the A.T. is protected in the future.
ATJ: IN THREE WORDS, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR FIRST FEW MONTHS
ON THE JOB?
SD: On the road.
In Guadalupe Mountains National Park
ATJ: WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED IN YOUR TRAVELS?
SD: Believe me, the meetings with clubs and partners have impressed me greatly. I have met extraordinarily dedicated, smart people. I believe the Trail’s greatest strengths include dedicated supporters and partners and the hard-working staff at ATC. I have also, of course, been spending time at Harpers Ferry and in regional offices, getting to know my team.
ATJ: WHAT ARE YOUR PRIORITIES?
SD: Building the profile of the Appalachian Trail is my number one priority. We need to make certain the country — the world, for that matter — knows about the A.T. and regards it as important. The Trail is significant for many reasons — for its recreational value and contributions to local communities; for its natural resources and how those resources support clean water and air; for its open space that facilitates wildlife migration; and for its place in American history. Quite frankly, if we don’t build public understanding and support now, we are likely to lose opportunities in the future.
ATJ: WHAT ARE YOU LEARNING ON THE ROAD?
SD: First let me say, I’ve only scratched the surface in my travels. It’s important for me to meet with Trail clubs and community leaders, to learn the details of their work and hear about their challenges. I’m committed to getting out and meeting as many A.T supporters are possible.
ATJ: WHAT IS A TYPICAL DAY FOR YOU?
SD: I’m not certain I’ve had a typical or routine day. (Laughing.) I can tell you that, when I’m not on the road meeting with clubs and donors, I get up early to answer emails or I am in our Headquarters in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Also, I’ve been spending considerable time in Washington, D.C. in meetings with federal partners and our non-profit allies.
With friend Erika Pelletier in Big Bend National Park
ATJ: SOUNDS GRUELING.
SD: Not at all. The A.T. is all about inspiration and aspiration. I am fueled by possibility.
ATJ: ARE YOU INTENDING TO THE HIKE THE A.T.?
SD: Enthusiastically, yes! I have spent time on the Trail but intend to log some serious miles this year and for years to come.