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

Terri Watson

Terri WatsonLeadership Position: Executive Director, LightHawk
NOLS Graduate: 1990 NOLS Instructor Course

From high up in the air, soaring over the peaks of Wyoming’s Wind River Range, most things look a lot smaller — herds of antelope spread out like a golden carpet, mult-pitch climbs are deceiving boulder problems, and high mountain lakes look like small specks of blue in a granite sea. One thing that doesn’t look smaller from the sky is the reality of human impacts on the land. Pilot Terri Watson, a former NOLS instructor, is very familiar with how a person’s perspective on environmental issues changes from the cockpit of a small plane.

“As soon as you start flying you see things,” she says. “Some people fly to get places. I fly to see things.”

Watson is executive director of LightHawk, a nonprofit environmental aviation organization that flies critical decision makers and shapers — everyone from reporters, scientists, and members of Congress to local villagers and land developers — over sensitive land-use areas in North and Central America. From the air, LightHawk’s team of over 100 volunteer pilots are able to show, in a way no other medium can, the interconnectedness of our natural environment.

Terri remembers taking a rancher, a developer and a “rabid environmentalist” up in the same plane a few years back. She flew the crew over an area that had been developed by coalbed methane, an area that was undergoing development by coalbed methane and one that hadn’t yet been developed. “They all saw the same thing,” she remembers. “They all gave a bit.”

Watson, a former Army pilot, has flown helicopters, Black Hawks and other planes all over the world, everywhere from Egypt to Antarctica, where she was a heli-coordinator for the National Science Foundation. Flying over places where she’s hiked with NOLS, however, remains meaningful. “When I hike I develop an intense sense of a place,” she says. “I think you develop your love with a place by spending time with it. But I think you gain a broader sense of how it fits into the big picture when you’re in the air.”

For NOLS students, Terri says, the Winds are a vast, rugged wilderness where you can hike for weeks without seeing other humans. These mountains feel remote, unspoiled, boundless in every direction. But from a plane, says Watson, everything’s different. You can see what lies beyond the mountain boarders and how little wilderness remains intact.

“You’ll always remember the peak you climbed,” she says. “Likewise, you’ll also always remember the flight you took. It leaves an impression.”

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


You won't just learn climbing skills; you'll also focus on how to manage top-rope sites and teach climbing techniques.
© Rodrigo Alfonso

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