By Mike Lynch
With a young family and roots in the Northeast, whitewater paddler Karrie Thomas had a desire to return home after spending years 15 years in Washington state and California. So when she landed the executive director position for the nonprofit Northern Forest Canoe Trail earlier this year, she was ecstatic. The Vermont-based organization manages the 740-mile water trail that starts in the southwestern Adirondacks and ends on the Canadian border in Maine.
A native of Plymouth, N.H., the 39-year-old Thomas most recently managed fundraising and community relations for the Placer Land Trust in Placer County, Calif. In mid-April, she replaced director Kate Williams, who after 10 years at NFCT is now the head of One Percent for the Planet. Both organizations are based in Waitsfield, Vt.
Although Thomas does more family-friendly trips nowadays with her two kids, she and her husband, Culley, are big-time whitewater paddlers. They’ve explored rivers in Chile, India, Mexico, Nepal, Peru and Europe, as well as throughout North America.
C&K caught up with Thomas recently to find out more about her and what she brings to the paddling organization.
CANOE AND KAYAK: Tell me why you were interested in becoming the executive director?
KARRIE THOMAS: It has, in part, to do with being a paddler myself, and in part, to do with the focus on community. Obviously we are a water trail and we’re focused on paddlers, but if we can work within communities to get them to realize their own visions of being a tourist destination on some level and bring paddling into that story (that would be great.) Helping them realize their vision is something that appeals to me.
Tell me a little bit about your paddling experience?
I’m primarily a whitewater paddler, although I’ve done some canoeing as a kid and then a little bit as an adult. I guess my friends and I joke around. We say, “We like to paddle ‘Class Fun.’” Sometimes Class Fun is Class V and some days Class Fun is getting on a river with somebody who has never been there before and trying to show them how to do an eddy turn.
What are some of the more adventurous trips that you’ve done?
Probably some of the wildest paddling (was) in Peru. We did two rivers back-to-back: the Colca And the Cotahuasi. Together they kind of vie for being among the deepest canyons in the world, and they also run through deep, deep desert. Both rivers had different reasons for being wild and fun. But the Cotahuasi had that added element of the history. There were a whole bunch of old ruins in the canyon that made it pretty special.
Have you heard from people who are setting out on the trail this year?
I’ve had a (few) conversations with section paddlers and been sent pictures with them gearing up and testing their equipment and setting up their tents in their living rooms to make sure everything is in top shape. It’s really fun to hear people getting our their maps and planning their trips, talking about where they’ve been, where they’ve been last year. It’s just really neat to be part of this time of frenzied excitement around what this summer’s adventure is going to be.
What do you bring to the trail based on your experiences?
I have a deep appreciation and foundation in being outside, and I think that one of the things that the Northern Forest Canoe Trail brings to the world is a great adventure that encourages people to share that outdoor experience with their families, with their friends, and to be inspired by other people. I think I fit into the group of people that appreciates just the fact that it’s there to start with and kind of likes the idea of dreaming of doing it one day.
CLICK HERE to read about one man’s speed record paddling the Northern Forest Canoe Trail