Dennis W Schvejda, a witness to Wild Nature from the four corners of North America: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to Newfoundland, to the Everglades and California Desert and many areas in between would be an asset to any local outdoor area. Committed to nature conservation and responsible hiking trail development on his own acreage and surrounding area, Dennis and his wife Tina are pillars in the National Outdoor community.
Dennis administrates SierraActivist.org, a website that serves North America with information crucial to wildlife and nature in the great outdoors! He also volunteers with the Meadowlands Conservation Trust, a public agency formed to acquire environmentally valuable land and to preserve and enhance the environment of the Hackensack Meadowlands District and the Hackensack River Watershed of which Tina is Executive Director.
Enjoy the interview, learn from his outdoor career path and get involved by visiting the sites listed below.
How and where were you introduced to the outdoors?
I’ve always had a great affinity for the outdoors and wildlife. Many children do, and unless a parent cultivates this interest, it will usually end there. I was very fortunate to have a father that was willing to spend so much of his precious time off chauffeuring and accompanying me on all sorts of outings. I later joined the Boy Scouts, became my troop’s first Eagle Scout, and enjoyed the many day hikes, weekend campouts, summers in Scout camp, backpacking Pihilmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico and a World Jamboree in Japan. As an adult I became a Scoutmaster and helped a new generation develop outdoor skills and appreciation. As I grew older, I found that skills and appreciation were not enough to prevent many of my favorite places from being lost to development. I became very active in our Sierra Club Chapter, received a national Sierra Club award in 2000 [http://www.sierraclub.org/awards/2000winners/specialschvejda.asp], and for three years was employed as Chapter Conservation Director. I also did a short stint as Advocacy Director for the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference.
What has been your favourite outdoor recreations area?
I spend weekends in the Catskills of New York and hope to retire there. Although the region abounds in trails and outdoor opportunities, and I do enjoy them, I spend the majority of time on my own property. With only a few people per square mile, my wife Tina and I can walk out the door and hike thousands of acres (including our neighbors, and of course we have permission!), enjoy the scenery, and see countless species of wildlife without seeing people. Our own version of paradise!
Beyond the Catskills, I have been able to witness Wild Nature from the four corners of North America: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to Newfoundland, to the Everglades and California Desert and many areas in between. In my opinion the wildest was the Arctic Refuge.
Please share an outdoor story related to one of the above areas.
Like so many in our modern world, I live by time restraints, living according to schedule. In the Arctic Refuge I was forced to do otherwise, live the day according to need, not time. My first morning I was up early, ready to go and frustrated that our guides seemed to be moving in slow motion. I’m from the New York area, “move it, move it, move it!” I was soon to learn and experience “Arctic time.” The sun never completely set below the horizon, there was always light. With unlimited light, time became meaningless. As the days passed, we moved when the weather was agreeable, and stayed put when not. We ate three meals a day, but there was no breakfast, lunch or dinner. We stopped and ate when opportunity arose, not when time demanded. Breakfast at midnight, dinner at 10 am and so on. It was the closest I will ever come to living as our nomadic ancestors did, a truly unique experience. And yes we were on schedule for our bush plane ride out!
Have you ever experienced a wilderness medical emergency or been lost in the wilderness? If so please describe this adventure and any lessons learned.
My wife Tina and I were members of a Sierra Club backpacking trip in Montana’s Swan Range. Most of the party had crossed a creek just above a four-foot waterfall via a slippery 30-foot log. As the group waited by the waterfall pool for the remainder to cross the natural log bridge, a woman slipped and fell. She was head first into the water, suspended upside-down from the log by her pack. Nobody moved… But with full pack I ran onto the log as my wife with full pack charged across the three and a half foot pool to her side and moved her head so she could breathe. As she did so, I picked the fallen women (and her pack) up, righted her onto the log and walked her off. It soon became evident that the woman had also suffered a superficial neck cut (dangerously close to major arteries) that none the less was bleeding profusely. We took care of that quickly also. I am a Wilderness First Responder, with all sorts of Scout/Outdoor first aid training. That helped and I encourage others to commit to training. But there are intangibles. I can (could!) move a lot of weight around, adrenaline was critical. While everyone remained frozen (even our guide), I am grateful that my wife and I were able to move quickly and help this woman.
Can you share any unique encounters with wild animals?
As a teenager backpacking in New Mexico’s Sange de Christo Mountains I was sleeping under the stars and was awakened by a porcupine licking my salt encrusted head! I’m thankful he didn’t take a bite!
In New Jersey I came upon a foraging young black bear. What I’m about to tell you is wrong and you shouldn’t do it, a feed bear is a dead bear. The bear was jaw popping and huffing, so I spoke softly to him and didn’t move any closer. Eventually, with one eye on me, he again snuffled for food through the leaves. I threw him a dried apricot, which he ate and another and so on. Now he was like a dog, sitting at my feet wanting more. I bowled an apple down the trail, and he ran after it, came back and ate it. I continued my hike with a black bear by my side, occasionally giving him a treat. After 45 minutes, the food was gone and I was getting close to a road, so I ended our walk. I stopped, took off my pack pointed to my open mouth and the upside down pack and told the bear there wasn’t any more food. Damn if he didn’t look at me, sit down and watch as I continued my hike!
Alaska’s Tongass National Forest provided the most varied wildlife. The confluence of land, sea and sky, the Tongass provides a wildlife spectacle! Brown bear (grizzly) walking along every shoreline, bald eagles common as pigeons, killer whale pods passing and surrounding your boat, sea otters and seals hiding in the shallows from this apex predator and popping up a few feet from your kayak. What a place!
If not previously mentioned, have you ever completed a thru-hike or multi-day backpacking trip and what nuggets of wisdom did you glean from it?
I guess a few. First off, it’s difficult!
I like to start very early, break camp before sunrise, eat a snack, start hiking and break for a trail breakfast at 10. I stop to camp early afternoon.
If drinking water quantity is questionable, carry it! In New Hampshire’s White Mountain Presidential Range the immediate water supply was termed “problematic.” So I carried 5 gallons for our group. In this popular hiking place I was assured by two dozen hikers that there was water ahead and I was wasting my energy carrying the water. You guessed it – the only water was a damp rock.
Take care of your feet, they get you there! Too many people seem to wear the wrong shoes. Some need heavy boots with support, some don’t. Find out what’s best for you before you’ve committed to a multi-day outing, which you may have to do in agony, on blistered feet. Not a great way to spend your vacation!
On group outings many people stay to themselves. After your camp is set, get out there and help. If not the guide with cooking and camp chores, be observant and provide assistance. There’s always something to do!
What is your favourite outdoor website?
Hmm, a loaded question. I started http://SierraActivist in the 90’s as the Internet became popular. It was a site that grew along with my Sierra Club activism and wound up with 40,000 posts and two million visits. After five years without an update and hackers destroying functionality, I’m in the process of updating the software driving the site and adding new posts. Where the Sierra Activist website will go is anybody’s guess. I have started Twitter posting (@DSchvejda) outdoor/environmental items and folks can contact me by direct messaging me there.
What is your favourite outdoor hiking gear store?
I used to live in Campmor! But I must admit to not having been there in a long time – I have so much stuff!
If you are a website administrator please add your url here.
Any last words?
Clayton Kessler is providing a great service to the outdoor community by offering to post these interviews on his website. Thank you!
You are more than welcome Dennis. I have been very privleged to have the opportunity to have dialogue with outdoor enthusiasts worldwide and to receive their input, knowledge and enthusiasm for all things outdoors.