Meet Dirt Artisans’ Seasonal Staff: Olivia Ashbaugh and Christopher Johnson

Mon, Aug 26, 2019

University students Olivia Ashbaugh and Christopher Johnson spend most of the year attending classes and studying, but both also love being outdoors. So when the opportunity arose for them to join the Dirt Artisans team building trails in the woods back home this summer, they jumped on it.

“My dad is a member of the Northern Allegheny Mountain Bike Association (NAMBA) and heard that Dirt Artisans was considering hiring a local person,” said Olivia, who is studying Veterinary and Biomedical Science with a minor in International Agriculture at Penn State University. “I enjoy spending time outside hiking, biking and skiing; I don’t mind physical labor; and I didn’t want to be in an office all day, so the chance to work outside for a summer was very appealing.”

Christopher, a student of Biology at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, learned about the job from NAMBA President Ron Jameson. “He called me one night after a meeting and encouraged me to apply for the position. I love the trails that Dirt Artisans has already built, and I knew that working with them was a way to be part of the process of creating still more trails. While I’d worked for my town mowing the grass and doing related tasks during a couple of summers, I’d never had a job exactly like this before.”

From the Classroom to the Trail

Both students were hired to be Hand Finishers for the Trails at Jakes Rocks near Warren, Pennsylvania, where Dirt Artisans was undertaking Phase 3 of a project to construct an extensive network of purpose-built mountain bike trails in the Allegheny National Forest. 

Prior to joining Dirt Artisans’ team, Olivia and Christopher already had plenty of firsthand experience hiking and riding in the area where they’d be helping permanent staff build more trails.

“I have lived in Warren since I was a toddler. I grew up going to Jakes Rocks to hike before the mountain bike trails were there,” said Olivia, “and more recently, I’ve learned to love biking on the Trails at Jakes Rocks.”

A Learning Experience

Neither student had any significant prior experience building trails, but both learned a lot during their summer in the woods.

“I didn’t know what to expect because I didn’t know a whole lot about the trailbuilding process,” said Christopher. “Sure I knew there would be a couple machines to help make the trails, but I wasn’t sure what happened after that. It turns out that the best parts of my job were being outside all day and the physical demands of the work, although it wasn’t particularly difficult. It’s great to spend time in nature and feel like I have worked hard at the end of the day.”

In particular, Christopher enjoyed the rock work he did. “I like how it looks at the end, and it’s a great feeling when you get an area with lots of water to flow perfectly over the rocks,” he said.   In addition to the rock work, Olivia enjoyed the bridge building much more than she had anticipated. “Both rock armoring and bridge building are more difficult than other tasks like raking or root clipping, but they are also more rewarding in some ways because the finished product generally requires more thought and effort in order to be functional and long lasting,” she said.

Olivia also appreciated her work environment, especially her colleagues. “Everyone on the crew was friendly and worked well together. While the atmosphere felt relaxed, our crew was full of hardworking people who got their tasks done with great end results. Talking to my coworkers was also interesting since they have had so many unique experiences and areas of expertise; there is so much to learn about biking, birds and the wilderness.”

Christopher and Olivia headed back to school this fall. They expect to graduate in 2020 and 2021, respectively, with their Bachelor’s degrees prior to pursuing further education and career goals. You can read their full bios here: Christopher and Olivia.

You can also learn more about the Trails at Jakes Rocks in Part 1 and Part 2 of this article.

If you are interested in seasonal employment in trailbuiding with Dirt Artisans, please contact info@dirtartisans.com to find out about currently open or pending positions and to submit your resume.