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Expedition Leadership | Leadership Types | Leadership Skills
Leadership in 30 Days | Leadership Profiles

Alex Matthiessen

Alex MatthiessenLeadership Position: Hudson Riverkeeper and Riverkeeper Executive Director
NOLS Graduate: 1984 Wind River Wilderness Course

NOLS grad Alex Matthiessen’s job title isn’t one you come across everyday — he’s a riverkeeper, a steward of New York’s Hudson River. As the Hudson Riverkeeper and the Executive Director of the Riverkeeper Organization, Alex works to safeguard the river, its tributaries and the entire watershed of New York City. It’s a big task but one Matthiessen is well qualified for. Alex joined Riverkeeper from the U.S. Department of the Interior, where he developed the Green Energy Parks Initiative, a joint program between the National Parks Service and the Department of Energy that promotes clean and sustainable energy use in the national parks system. For his leadership on this project, Alex received a Presidential Award from the White House.

Matthiessen, who inherited his love for wild places from his father, author Peter Matthiessen, has achieved much in his long career working for the environment. But in 1984 he was just a 20-year-old kid on a Wind River Wilderness course with NOLS. In the Winds he remembers discovering the notion that if you’re going to enjoy a wild place, you should leave it as you found it. “NOLS instilled in me a deep appreciation and commitment to preserving wilderness in particular and the environment in general,” he says. “When I’m in the mountains I feel a certain centeredness and freedom that I don’t find in the everyday world.”

Today Alex calls himself an urban environmentalist, protecting a river that’s as far from the mountains as it is from most people’s idea of wilderness. Riverkeeper Organization focuses on the Hudson River and its tributaries, but Matthiessen asserts that the health of the river is really indicative of the entire city’s health. “When you’re working in an urban setting,” he says, “you’re working on places where people live and where air and water is being contaminated on a routine basis.”

As Matthiessen works to transform what was once considered an open sewer into a healthy waterway, he draws on some basic skills he learned at NOLS. “Part of learning survival skills,” he says, “is learning team building skills. I think it’s those same skills that are needed if you live in a community that’s being threatened.”

Alex and his volunteers and fellow advocates have rolled up their sleeves and seen enormous success pulling the community together to improve the health of the city’s waterways. Riverkeeper has investigated and brought to justice more than 300 environmental lawbreakers and today the Hudson is the only large river in the North Atlantic that retains strong spawning stocks of its historical migratory species. And while Alex doesn’t get to the mountains as much as he’d like to, he has found, in the middle of New York City, a river worth keeping.

Grad Profiles in Alphabetical Order

Pete Athans
Janice Bloom
David Breashears
Diane Brinkley
Carlos Buhler
Caroline Byrd
Archie Clemins
Columbia Crew
Mike DiDonna
Chris Gergen
John Grunsfeld
Ryan Hughes
Bruce Jacobsen
Sebastian Junger
Tom Kiernan
Alex Matthiessen
Tori McClure
Kitty Phillips
Guy Santiago
Tom Scott
Kat Taylor
Terri Watson
Louisa Willcox

Expedition Leadership | Leadership Types | Leadership Skills
Leadership in 30 Days | Leadership Profiles


Wind River Wilderness courses learn fly-fishing skills in high alpine lakes and streams famous for their abundance of trout.
Photo: Kevin Bergstrom

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