Features

Upon first glance, Linda Merigliano may appear serious and quiet. However, get her talking about the great outdoors and its impact on the human condition, and her eyes snap with intelligence. Her smile, genuine and broad, is infectious. Merigliano is passionate about wild spaces—particularly those landscapes she serves as recreation manager for the Jackson District of the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

Merigliano fondly remembers being a “free-range kid” growing up. Catching frogs and crayfish, running around the woods and the lake behind her family’s house, and skating on the pond in the winters stoked her love of the outdoors and spending unfettered time outside. She credits these early times and being, as she puts it, “a product of the ‘70s back-to-nature movement,” for instilling her beliefs about the natural world. “Nature has some really key values to the human spirit,” she says.

In 1979, Merigliano took a bus west, chasing an internship and following a boy. The bus dropped her off in Ashton, Idaho. There wasn’t much going on there—she recalls finding her boss in the bar. She lived that summer at the Squirrel Meadows Guard Station on the western slope of the Tetons. It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with the mountains, rivers, and lakes of western Wyoming and eastern Idaho. It fed her growing belief that protecting public lands is a broad and collective obligation.

Early on in her career, Merigliano made a choice that was unusual for those working for the forest service. It was a conscious choice to stay in one area. “My decision was to make a difference here,” she says. “This is our home.”

While much of her work with the Bridger-Teton has been in the expansive arena of forest planning, she recounts very personal, on-the-ground projects as some of her proudest moments. The community partnership to address dog-related issues in the Cache and Game Creek drainages, the expansion and improvement of the Snow King and Josie’s Ridge trail system, and the Winter Ambassador Program on Teton Pass make her top three accomplishments. In all of these, she recounts the impact of the community’s engagement as a particular point of importance. She considers these management efforts to be “transformative to the wildlife values,” as she puts it, while allowing for the recreation opportunities that are so critical.

“The opportunity to be outside, to connect with nature, is essential to the human spirit,” she says. “If you really want people to care about public lands, you need to start in people’s backyards. If we are really going to protect the wild parts of our landscape, we’ve got to provide opportunities, places for people to go.”