Joe is a recent graduate from our 2021 Crew Leader Trainees. After taking his new found skills to the next level, Joe has officially become a Sutro Stewards crew leader. We are so excited to have him apart of our community and help lead volunteers out on the trails. Get to know more about Joe!
Can you tell us a little about yourself? What is your background and where are you from?
I grew up and went to college in Madison, Wisconsin. I moved to San Francisco in 1989 (just in time for a big August 1989 earthquake that everybody has completely forgotten because of the much bigger one that hit in October). I came out here for law school and never left. I’ve lived in the same spot in the Haight Ashbury for 28 years now. When I’m not hiking through Sutro Forest, helping to maintain its trails, or trying to advance my extremely rudimentary basketball skills, I’m usually busy running my law firm, where I work suing insurance companies and retirement plans on behalf of working people.
How did you first hear about Sutro Stewards and what made you want to volunteer initially?
I’m embarrassed to admit that I lived less than a mile from Sutro Forest since 1994, but never hiked in it until shortly before the pandemic. In the text of the very first pandemic lockdown order that the City promulgated in mid-March 2020, I observed that “outdoor recreation” (which explicitly included “walking” and “running”) was explicitly defined as “essential activity” – so my immediate reaction was “The City just told me to go outside and take a walk! I will do as I have been told!” I started hiking in earnest that week, and by late 2020 I was hiking through Sutro Forest almost every morning (and I still do). I was dimly aware of the Stewards from signs posted on the trails, but then they (you, we, I suppose) put out a call for volunteers in early 2021 and I felt a sense of both obligation and desire to try to give something back to the organization and to the mountain and the trails that had become so important to me. I definitely feel like I’m getting the better end of the bargain!
What made you want to take the next step to become a Crew Leader and what commitment and responsibilities do you have in that leadership position?
I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about trail work, first of all – all the tools, the techniques, all the different kinds of things we do. I’m a pretty new Crew Leader, so it’s still a steep learning curve for me. Beyond that, I’ve been a professor for decades (I teach Legal Writing at my alma mater, UC Hastings College of the Law), and I think I’m a reasonably competent motivator and teacher, so putting those skills to use for the benefit of the Stewards, the mountain, and the volunteers seemed to make sense. So far it feels like a great fit!
Since my first Saturday volunteering, I haven’t missed a Saturday trail session except when I’ve been out of town or sick. I’ve also helped out on a couple of interim volunteer days, including a mid-week event moving some logs in preparation for the following Saturday’s volunteer day, and a long day of demolition and tool moving when we had to vacate and empty our tool shed. Both as a volunteer, and as a volunteer leader, I feel like the most important skill is availability – you’ve gotta show up! I hope that as a crew leader I can convey my enthusiasm for the forest and for the work to others and help expand our crew of regular volunteers in the process.
What is your favorite Trail on Mt Sutro and why?
There’s a little stretch of the West Ridge Trail that connects Historic Trail to the upper end of Gardener’s Trail. I like it because it is ridiculously steep, and I’ve never once encountered another human being on it – so it allows me to get my heart rate nice and high, and to enjoy my solitude, all at the same time.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m super into music – I’ve played guitar since I was six, so that’s nearly 50 years now (holy cow!). In my mid 20s I had a brief side hustle as a touring heavy metal guitarist. I play guitar, bass, ukulele, mandolin, and banjo (the last two rather poorly). My father was a professional cellist and cello professor, and my older brother is a professional violist and viola professor, so music and teaching are both very much in my genes. I have a mechanical aortic valve that was implanted at UCSF in 1993 – so I like to joke than I’m bionic. In addition to English, I speak Italian passably, German badly, and Thai pathetically.
What is your favorite:
“Mid-Day Squares” makes these chocolate peanut butter protein bars that are pretty delicious. But I’m also content with a Snickers bar or a can of cold-brewed coffee.
The Lives of Others, the Oscar-winning German movie written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (yeah that’s really his name – quite a mouthful!), is the single most extraordinary piece of filmmaking I’ve ever seen. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Place to hike?
Sutro Forest! I also love running up all the stairs that lead into it, including the Farnsworth steps, and the several-hundred steps called Blairwood Lane that connect Clarendon Ave. to Crestmont, just to the south of the West Ridge trailhead.