Honoring the Women of the IATC: Barbara Johnson

Honoring the Women of the IATC: Barbara Johnson

Written by Cameron McCrea

The following is the first in what will be a series of articles honoring some of the women who have been involved in the IATC. This article comes from an interview with Barbara Johnson, conducted by Hannah Wheeler, on July 2nd, 2019.

Barbara Johnson grew up on Vashon Island and has lived in King County nearly her whole life. She is now 76 and lives in Skagit County because “Harvey made her.” Harvey took her there to see the snow geese in the wintertime and she loved it. They still fly over every year. Although her parents were not the outdoor type, she has always loved being outside, and went on to become vice president of IATC. 

She originally got into hiking through her friends in Ski Patrol. They would all go skiing together in the wintertime. She told her friends she would love to go into the mountains year-round, and her friends replied that they needed to take her hiking. She was hooked from her first hike. So hooked in fact, she became a park ranger. A week prior to being offered the job, she ended up knee deep in mud and rain while hiking near Tibbitts creek working on a crossing, despite this she still wanted to become a ranger. 

Her first hike with the IATC was a partnership with Issaquah Parks led by Harvey and included about 70 people. They left from the Cougar Park and Ride area on a hot sunny day. Although she wound up towards the back of the group, and “never heard much of what Harvey was saying” she was inspired to lead hikes of her own. 

As a hike leader, Barbara absorbed all kinds of knowledge about nature from other hike leaders. They all had their own area of expertise such as plants, trees, and history. She took an interest in botany; she enjoyed knowing what was “safe to snack on” along the trail. Additionally she discovered she especially loved leading hikes with families and children. Through this she found her inner teacher. After each hike she lead, the participants would thank her and ask her where she taught. She would respond with “Oh, I’m not a teacher” and they would reply “Yes you are!” She enjoys sharing information on the natural world because she wants others to enjoy nature also. She says she is “a professor in a certain kind of way.”

Barbara's first impression of the IATC was that the club was a great idea. She loved Havery’s idea of “voting with your feet”, in reference to going hiking in the Alps as a form of advocacy for those lands. In those early days there was so much to do, and they all “rolled up their sleeves and did the work.” They took turns leading hikes, and eventually became more comfortable lobbying and speaking in front of leadership. Once when speaking in front of King County Council, Harvey showed up in his classic attire, while Barb showed up in a three-piece suit. Harvey commented that “she looked so normal”, which is perhaps why she was the one who ended up on the evening news that night, because she didn’t look like she “just walked out of the woods.”

One of the biggest things she advocated for in those days was the Newcastle Community Plan. Harvey and Dave both knew how to work the system and taught her lobbying. One of the biggest things she learned from the club was how to advocate for something she believed in before a politically elected group. For instance, there was once a water park across the street from Lake Sammamish State Park, where they had cut down a large tree snag that didn’t need to be removed. She went in front of the city council and testified on behalf of the Red-Tailed Hawk that had perched in that snag, surprising everyone. The council realized they had to talk to the locals about these issues, as they were the only ones who would know about something such as the local hawk. Over time, it became a pattern for them to come to IATC meetings before even proposing something new. This, of course, took close to ten years, but eventually it became clear that the IATC was not just a hiking club, it was also a lobbying club. 

Barbara was one of many women involved in the club in its early years. She continues to stress the importance of representation in the club. In Skagit County, where she now lives, the Latino population is 13-15% of the entire population. She wants to get everyone, including more people of color, outside in the parks. She cites that many studies have confirmed that “we all need to get out there and get some fresh air.” The more diverse groups of people that get out on the trails, the more people we have caring about the future of these spaces. 

As for the future of the club, Barbara believes in continuing our mission without resting on our laurels. In the same way they brought people out to the trails and drew their attention to the risk of development, she says we should be drawing attention to new challenges such as climate change. “We need to keep talking about the environment when leading hikes, look at what we see today, and think this could be gone with wildfires approaching Issaquah.” Climate change is no longer far away with low snowpack and droughts. She stresses the importance to keep talking to politicians, writing letters. 

She also thinks that Cougar Mountain Wildlife Park should be renamed Harvey Manning Wildlife Park. But that idea never came to fruition. “Harvey was so important in rounding up the troops, I would like to see him more honored.”

Our mission is to promote long term sustainability, and Barbara believes we should continue to do that through programs like Trailhead Direct. The first hike she lead used Wilderness on the Metro, a precursor to Trailhead Direct. Looking back on all we’ve done in forty years, she says it turns out there’s “always work to do, and we should keep on doing it.” 

Barbara Johnson

Barbara Johnson

Hannah Wheeler