How I Got Involved

How I Got Involved

RCTC board member, Kelly Wilding, shares her story of climbing and volunteerism.

Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy is seeking diverse candidates for our board of directors. For consideration, please submit an application by 3/15/23. Elections conclude on 5/3/23. Questions? Send us an email at  

From the Rachel Carson to the Top of Africa

By Kelly J. Wilding

Since I was five years old, I'd dreamed of going to Africa. Growing up, my father and I tuned in every week to watch Wild Kingdom, and seeing lions in the Serengeti became the number one goal on my bucket list. So, when a friend was talking about going to Tanzania, I jumped at the opportunity. But we weren't just going on safari. We were going to tackle the single highest freestanding mountain in the world.

The ascent to the highest peak on Mount Kilimanjaro is 19,341 feet. As we planned our training for the climb, we asked ourselves how three western Pennsylvanians could train for that altitude, with the highest point locally only reaching roughly 3,200 feet.

We found our answer on the rigorous and steep climbs along the Rachel Carson Trail. Aside from a few overnight backpacking hikes in the Laurel Mountains, most of our training was along the beautiful RCT. Our trip was delayed a year because of the pandemic. It gave us extra time to build stamina, particularly by carrying weighted backpacks while scaling the RCT's wicked Burtner Hill. I invited anyone willing to train with me on countless hikes along the RCT and introduced many a Pittsburgher to her primitive yet well-maintained 46 miles.

All three of us training on the RCT climbed to the Kilimanjaro summit. When I returned from my month in Africa, it was important to me to figure out how I could introduce more people to the RCT and contribute to its preservation and mission. When seats opened on the Rachel Carson Trail Conservancy board in early 2022, I applied and was excited at the possibility of volunteering with the people dedicated to making the trail experience a positive one. The RCTC was specifically looking for board members with experience in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), and as a current doctoral candidate in Point Park University's Community Engagement Department, the opportunity piqued my interest.

Since I was elected in June, I've seen how committed the board members are to the organization's mission. What an amazing group of people! I am currently a co-leader on the DEI Committee, which works to cultivate diversity on the trails and within our organization. We are also addressing barriers to trail accessibility by collaborating with diverse groups that positively impact our communities. This semester I've introduced some of my Point Park students to the RCTC  mission, and we collaboratively hosted a hike with the honors program. Many of our students are housed downtown and want more opportunities to get out and enjoy nature. Getting out of the city is an issue since most students do not have cars. The DEI committee is developing a guide to accessing trail points through public transportation. It could make a difference for students and other city residents.

I look forward to the coming year as a board member and as a hiker on all of the RCTC trails. Last, I'd like to note that although I made it to the top of Africa, I have doubts about completing a Full Rachel Carson Trail Challenge. Now that would be an accomplishment.blaze10.png