Essay Contest Winners

Guy and Laura Waterman spent a lifetime reflecting and writing on the mountains of the Northeast. The Waterman fund seeks to further their legacy of stewardship through essays that celebrate and explore issues of wilderness, wildness, and the ways in which individuals preserve and protect these important and fragile ecosystems.

Interested in entering your essay in our current contest? Learn more here ›

Meet Austin Hagwood, Lela Stanley, and Elise Wallace - Award Recipients of the 2023 Waterman Fund Essay Contest

The Waterman Fund invites our partners and patrons to a plated dinner on November 4, 2023 to celebrate recent work in the preservation of wild spaces and to spur discussion about the future of wilderness preservation in the Northeast. At this event, the Fund will also welcome Austin Hagwood and Elise Wallace, selected winner and one of our runners up for the 2023 Waterman Fund Essay Contest. Austin and Elise will both read excerpts from their selected pieces on this night.

Austin Hagwood

Austin Hagwood, "Smoke Report"

The fire began when lightning forked and gave birth to blazing triplets.  White-hot plasma burst from a storm about the Bitterroot Mountains, burrowed into drought-dried  lodgepole bark, and vanished with a crack that scented the air with a coppery tang.  From where he stood inside Hell's Half Acre Lookout, a watchtower eight miles from the strike, Mark Moak pulled back a red ponytail and affixed binoculars to his face.  The circular lenses encompassed a brutal topography of canyons and cliffs, parched conifers on the border of Idaho and Montana browned from a rainless summer.  Air above the treetops shimmered under mid-July heat.

Lela Stanley

Lela Stanley, "Sky's the Limit"

In the summer of 2020, in the middle of all of it, we had a particular thunderstorm in Washington, DC.  It was one in a line of them, a late July mini-season of tempests sweeping east.  My girlfriend spent those days in the kitchen, clanking pots and beats, distractants, avoiding the windows.  I sat on the porch steps and watched rain turn the air white.  We lived near a metro stop, and daily, commuters sprinted past, umbrellaless, caught out under the exploding storms.

Elise Wallace

Elise Wallace, "Pilgrimage"

"It's good that you're seeing this now because it's about to get catastrophic," Sean Shaheen a retired wildlife biologist, told me.  It was afternoon and we were standing in his front yard east of Yellowstone National Park near Cody, Wyoming.  Despite the stormy and warm June day our conversation began when I asked about winter.  To Shaheen, winters aren't so bad anymore.  He remembered when there was about a month of temperatures near negative 30 degrees Fahrenheit, but now it rarely gets below zero.

YearAuthorEssay TitleAward (in $)
2023Austin HagwoodSmoke Report
2022Olivia BoxWhat Climate Models Don't Show1500
2021Jason MazurowskiSplitting Clouds at the Edge of the World1500
2021Claire DumontHow COVID-19 Exposed the Myth of Wilderness and Revealed its Potential: A Reflection on 2020 through a Hike of the Long Trail500
2021Keely O'ConnellBird's Eye View
2020Lorraine MonteagutThe Wild Self, What is wild to one is home to another1500
2019Jennifer O'ConnellValley of the Bulls1500
2019Alex PickensThe Do's and Don't's of Trail Running in the Appalachian Mountains1500
2019John AndersonHumor in the Wild500
2018Emily HeidenreichOn Ceding Control1500
2018Tyler SocashThe Torch of Preservation500
2017No Award Given
2016No Award Given
2015Dove HenryOne Tough Gal1500
2015Erica BerryLady and the Camp500
2014Jenny Kelly WagnerThe Cage Canyon1500
2013Michael WejchertEpigoni, Revisited1500
2012Katherine DykstraA Place for Everything1500
2012Angela ZukowskiWilderness500
2011Blair BravermanOn Being Lost1000
2011Bethany TaylorThe Warp and Weft1000
2010Dianne FallonHunting the Woolly Adelgid1500
2009Jeremy LoebA Ritual Descent1500
2008Kimberley S.K. BealClimate Change at the Top1500

Additional Notable Essays

November 2008 - Dark Night on Whitewall, Will Kemeza

October 2008 - Looking Up, Sandy Stott

September 2008 - Fay's Quandary Revisited, Nat Scrimshaw

August 2008 - Meditation on Winter Camping, Sally Manikian

July 2008 - A Pocket of the Mountains, N. Blauss

June 2008- The Evolution of a Trail Worker, Matt Moore

May 2008 - A Cup of Mountain Tea, Jeremy Loeb