Tales From The Trails:

Volunteer Spotlight: Al McSwain

Nearly every Thursday morning since the fall of 2010, Al McSwain has been volunteering to repair trail and enhance habitat with the Forest Park Conservancy. Al is a retired engineering manager who has had his fill of meetings, planning, and budgeting. Nowadays, he wants to engage in physical activity that accomplishes on-the-ground objectives. 

Al’s engineering background adds value to Forest Park Conservancy’s stewardship program. One morning, Al took a look at an old foot bridge that was scheduled for re-decking, noticed the rotting stringers, and announced that the whole bridge would need replacing. 

 “[Al] looks at things and analyzes them, and comes to the right conclusions without the bureaucracy.” – FPC Volunteer John Jamison 

When asked about his engineering career, Al speaks humbly. He mentions his preference for hiring people smarter than he is and retells his friend Ken Stinger’s joke that all bad engineers become managers. Ken often carpools with Al to Thursday work parties and has been Al’s friend for over 25 years. According to Ken,

“[Al] has a knack for getting along with everybody he works with. I think everyone looks up to him and respects him… he’s a born manager.” 

In addition to volunteering regularly on Thursdays, Al applies his leadership as a Volunteer Crew Leader at large-scale Forest Park Conservancy work parties. Al says he signed up for the crew leader training to learn more about the principles behind the work we do, work which has deepened his relationship to Forest Park. 

“I use [Forest Park] for recreation and since I’ve been working out here as a volunteer, I began to appreciate it as a natural resource too, which previously I took for granted.” – Al McSwain   

Forest Park has been a cherished recreation destination for Al and his family since they moved to the area in 1968. As soon as they could walk, Al’s children began joining him and his wife on weekend hikes. Al himself spent his lunch hours running the trails when he worked for Harris Group, located only a mile away from Lower Macleay Park. To this day, his favorite Forest Park hiking route runs from the Lower Macleay Trailhead up to Pittock Mansion. 

Al’s connection to Forest Park and calm resilience make him an exemplary field crew volunteer. While being interviewed for this article during a windstorm advisory, Al commented: 

 “Even though the wind’s hollering, as long as we don’t get hit by a tree, today’s not a bad day.“

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