Virginia Tech’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation and the College of Natural Resources and Environment’s Leadership Institute presented Teresa Martinez with the Gerald H. Cross Alumni Leadership Award.

Martinez, co-founder and executive director of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, earned her bachelor’s and her master’s degrees in fisheries and wildlife sciences from Virginia Tech. She has built a career around managing and preserving trails and credits her time at Virginia Tech with establishing that passion.

“During my freshman year, I saw an ad for a volunteer work project on the Appalachian Trail. We went out to Bland County to work on an eight-mile stretch, and from my first step onto the trail, I fell in love,” she recalled. “As I got more involved, I learned that trails allow you to be involved with all aspects of land management — from forest biology and soils, to wildlife management and human dimensions. It was a natural fit.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree in 1992, Martinez joined the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Central and Southwest Regional Office, which was located in Blacksburg at the time. In her role as an assistant regional representative, she worked closely with volunteers, an experience that inspired her to return to Virginia Tech to complete her master’s with a focus on human dimensions.

“I began to look at trails as less about land management and more about people management. The sociology of why people volunteer on trails was fascinating to me,” she said.

After completing her master’s in 1998, Martinez returned to the conservancy as a regional director and program manager. She focused her efforts on increasing diversity, creating opportunities for persons with disabilities, reaching out to trail enthusiasts, and developing youth programs.

In 2007, after 20 years with the conservancy, Martinez headed west to join the Continental Divide Trail Alliance as a field programs director.

“I wanted a new challenge, and that position offered a different role, different colleagues, and a different landscape. I got to grow professionally with them in ways that led me to where I am today,” Martinez explained.

She worked for the alliance until 2012, when it closed owing to financial reasons.

“When the alliance closed, three colleagues and I decided that we couldn’t let trail support efforts fail. At that point, we decided to found the Continental Divide Trail Coalition,” she said.

The coalition is the lead national partner with the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and U.S. Bureau of Land Management in the stewardship, protection, and administration of the 3,100-mile Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. Despite shifting to a more organizational role, Martinez has remained constant in her desire to develop partnerships and support the people working to protect trails. She credits Virginia Tech with instilling that mindset.

“I’m part of a long legacy of people protecting nationally significant landscapes for future generations,” she said. “I was lucky in school because the faculty created an environment that inspired collaboration and partnership. I learned how to work with others and appreciate diverse skillsets.

“Now, I get to enjoy being outdoors on trails and creating awareness about protecting this corridor and all its various resources for the enjoyment of the American public,” she continued. “I create partnerships with employees, board members, agency professionals, volunteers, other partner organizations, and supporters, and find ways to help them develop projects and engage people on this landscape.”

Martinez’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. Backpacker Magazine named her a Trail Hero in 2013. She serves on the board of the Partnership for the National Trails System, a group that supports the management and administration of all 30 National Historic and Scenic Trails. The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture appointed her chairperson of the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail Advisory Council, and in 2015, she received a lifetime achievement award from the Partnership for the National Trails System in recognition of 25 years of service to the entire National Trails System.

Martinez will return to Southwest Virginia to participate in the panel discussion Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) on Sept. 25 at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine in Roanoke. She will join fellow alumnae who are navigating challenges and excelling in male-dominated fields.

On receiving the Gerald H. Cross Alumni Leadership Award, Martinez noted, “It was a surprise to be nominated; I was flattered and humbled. I was even more humbled to find out I’d received the award. I’m in the middle of my career, so it means a lot that the faculty and students thought what I’m doing represents the university in a way they can be proud of.”

Professor Emeritus Gerald H. Cross served as the head of what was then called the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences from 1976 to 1989. He significantly built up the department during his tenure, increasing the number of faculty members three-fold.

Cross created a continuing education program focusing on leadership development for Forest Service professionals. Approximately 1,000 natural resource professionals have participated in the program since 1988. The leadership that Cross demonstrated inspired the creation of his namesake award, whose recipients are recognized for their dedication and outstanding achievements in leading others.

“Dr. Cross recognized early on that the strong technical skills that helped natural resource professionals move up in their organizations must be accompanied by leadership skills if they were to succeed at higher levels,” said Associate Professor Emeritus Steve McMullin, who co-directs the college’s Leadership Institute, a two-semester program for select undergraduate students. The institute’s students interview and select the award nominee from a pool of candidates and forward their recommendation to the department head for final approval.