Board of Directors Feature: Maria Betancourt

At American Hiking Society, we envision a world where everyone feels welcome in the hiking community and has permanent access to meaningful hiking, including urban, frontcountry, and backcountry opportunities. Maria Bentancourt is someone who has worked hard on achieving this mission through her time on the Board of Directors as well as exemplifying it in her personal life.

Maria joined the AHS Board of Directors in 2017 and has been a valued member of the Development Committee as well as the Strategic Planning Committee Chair. At the end of 2022, Maria will be concluding her second three-year term on the AHS Board. Recently, Maria reflected on her six years of experiences with AHS, its mission, and the importance of bringing outdoor experiences to all.

“I think one of the most important, the most important work, that we do is communicating that the outdoors is for everyone.” With all of Maria’s outdoor experience, it’s hard to believe her parents were not hikers or campers. “My mother was afraid of spiders, and my dad was not outdoorsy,” explains Maria. “So if it had not been for Mr. Boone in high school, I would’ve never learned to love the outdoors. He made it accessible. He explained how to pack. He made me feel like it was there for me, just like it was there for everybody else.” Mr. Boone was one of Maria’s teachers in high school and made Maria feel comfortable with being outdoors by providing both information and inspiration. Maria sees AHS as being, not only an information provider, but an integral part of helping to remove barriers to the outdoors and hiking so that everyone feels welcome on the trails.

As Mr. Boone started Maria on her path towards a love of the outdoors, Maria has instilled the same in her daughters and many others. One of Maria’s daughters is section hiking the Appalachian Trail, and they all hike and camp together when they have the chance. Maria also has imparted onto each the importance of the Leave No Trace philosophy which she recounts with laughter, “To me, that is a fundamentally important part of enjoying the outdoors, and I have instilled that in my daughters. We’ve had heated conversations when they’ve gone backpacking about toilet paper.” The lively discussions focusing on whether to bag and carry out, to dig and bury in a hole, and how much is too much to spend on special fast dissolving toilet paper. ’ But this discussion, this is what I instilled in them. And that’s a love for the outdoors and taking care of our environment.”

As part of the Development Committee, Maria has helped craft the fundraising initiatives of AHS. To celebrate and commemorate her time on the AHS Board, Maria decided to create her own unique fundraiser. Her Rocky Mountain home state of Colorado has 58 mountain peaks above 14,000 feet – referred to as fourteeners, or 14ers. “I love hiking fourteeners. I completed my 20th summit this year.” Maria’s fundraiser is meant “to celebrate this time, honor the dedicated individuals I served with, and contribute to protecting these lands.”  She climbed six of Colorado’s 14ers with a goal of raising $1,000 for every year she served on the AHS Board. When asked which was her favorite so far, she replied, “Mount Yale. It was very tough at the top because you’re scrambling [over boulders] for about a quarter of a mile until you get to the summit. It was scary, but the views were unbelievable.”

It is this connection to the outdoors, the feeling of both awe and calm hiking brings to her, which makes Maria believe the mission of reaching as many people as possible and opening the outdoors to all is so important right now. “We have a mental health crisis in this country, and being outdoors stimulates your endorphins and that helps everybody create a feeling of wellbeing. I think post Covid, we realize that our spaces, as much as we may love our spaces, can feel confining, and that getting our bodies moving energizes us in so many ways. It’s more important than ever to be able to know that the outdoors are a place of solace and grounding and regeneration.”

Maria illustrates, “The mission that we have at American Hiking Society is more than just advocating for trails. It really comes from a love for the outdoors and from what we need to do to make sure our trails are protected, preserved, and that we are able to share the joy we find in the outdoors with other people.” May we all work to be what Mr. Boone was for Maria, and who Maria, in turn, has been for others—the person who welcomingly shares the knowledge and lights the outdoor enthusiasm for another.

We at American Hiking Society are grateful to Maria and her commitment to the Board of Directors, for furthering AHS’s work to bring the outdoors to everyone, and for sharing her hiking joy with us. See pictures and updates from Maria’s Protect the Trails We LOVE! fourteener fundraiser and show your appreciation for Maria’s time on the Board.

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