Though tales of “magic” and “angels” abound on our national scenic trails, the real magic is in alumna Teresa Martinez’s hard work and dedication to preserving these natural areas.

Martinez (’92 B.S., ’98 M.S. fisheries and wildlife conservation), co-founder and executive director of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, credits Virginia Tech and the college with establishing her love of the national trails as well as teaching her the science of caring for them. “But yes, ‘magic’ and ‘angels’ are part of the mystique and the lore,” she said.

She learned about national trails from the bottom up. As a freshman, she joined Virginia Tech’s Outing Club and was soon sawing, chopping, and hauling as a member of the crew that did the demanding maintenance of the Appalachian Trail. She moved up administratively within the club, from heaving a specialized hand tool called a pulaski to leading a trail crew and serving as club president.

“I was inspired, learned to think out of the box, and developed critical thinking skills at Virginia Tech,” Martinez recalled. “I got access and exposure to the science of forestry, wildlife, people, and land management.”

In her first job after earning her bachelor’s, as assistant regional representative at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Southwest and Central Virginia Regional Office, she realized a need to understand why individuals volunteer. So she returned to Virginia Tech to learn more.

“Associate Professor Steve McMullin introduced me to the human dimension of natural resources,” she said of her adviser who chaired the committee for her master’s thesis on volunteerism in natural resource nonprofit organizations.

After 15 years with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Martinez headed west in 2007 and joined the Continental Divide Trail Alliance. Unfortunately, the organization closed in 2012 owing to financial conditions, leaving the trail without a nonprofit partner working on its behalf.

“Knowing that we couldn’t let trail support efforts fail on our watch, three colleagues and I founded the Continental Divide Trail Coalition,” she explained. The organization is the lead national partner with the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management in the stewardship, protection, and administration of the 3,100-mile Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. “The coalition started with a $4 donation in 2013 and now has over a quarter-of-a-million-dollar annual budget,” she said.

“My work now is organizational,” she continued. “Today — a strategic planning call, tomorrow — travel to New Mexico to meet with community members at one of the 600 small gateway communities we work with, next week — a meeting with congressional representatives.”

Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. Backpacker Magazine named Martinez a Trail Hero in 2013. She serves on the board of the Partnership of the National Trail System, a group that supports the management and administration of all 30 National Historic and Scenic Trails. The Secretary of Agriculture appointed her to the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail Advisory Council, of which she serves as chair. And last year, she was awarded the lifetime achievement award from the Partnership of the National Trail System in recognition of 25 years of service to the entire National Trails System.

Martinez acknowledges that the Virginia Tech motto Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) has been a guiding principle in all her work since that first day on the trail.