New SHTA Board Member Knows Nature Heals

January 25th, 2024
Rob García-Gradoville Jr. at the Superior Hiking Trail’s southern terminus after completing his 2020 thru-hike. Rob joined our Board of Directors last summer, and we are thrilled to welcome him to the Association. Photo courtesy of Rob García-Gradoville Jr.

Rob García-Gradoville Jr. finds the Superior Hiking Trail astounding for several reasons. “You pass through so many unique ecosystems so quickly, from woods to small lakes to cliffs with views of Lake Superior, then back into humanity and society,” Rob said.

Rob joined the Superior Hiking Trail Association’s Board of Directors in June 2023 and brings an incredible array of skills to the Association. He also brings firsthand knowledge of the healing power of nature, and thru-hiking (hiking an entire trail in a single trip).

“I’m not the only thru-hiker on the board, but it does inform your conversations on how to maintain the Trail and what’s most important. It’s grounding,” he said.

Rob and his wife Esperanza moved back to Minnesota in 2020 after working abroad in Kenya in 2018, and then thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) in 2019. “We had a traumatic experience in Kenya. I wasn’t in a good spot with my mental health and we thought some time in the woods could help.

“After the AT thru-hike, I had a totally renewed faith in humanity. Those six months in the woods helped, but the people we met out there really made the difference. Everyone was interesting, genuine, and raw – in such a refreshing way,” Rob said. “If you’re ever in a hard spot in life, just getting out and hiking and meeting people, I don’t know if there is any better therapy than that.”

Rob and his wife, Esperanza, summit Mount Katahdin in Maine on the Appalachian Trail, completing their thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail in 2019. Photo courtesy of the García-Gradovilles.

Rob and Esperanza are originally from Connecticut and California, respectively, and were first introduced to the Trail in 2016 when they moved to Rochester, Minnesota when Esperanza entered a fellowship program at the Mayo Clinic.

“We did a two-night trip near Beaver Bay. It was so gorgeous; we were at this perfect campsite on Beaver River with a waterfall. The white noise gave us great sleep. We went to Kenya, but it was still in our minds that we were going to do the entire SHT someday,” Rob said.

The couple has lived all over the country and world. They originally met in the Peace Corps while stationed in the Dominican Republic. Rob’s degrees are in engineering, but he spent the first decade of his career working with international NGOs on social and environmental impact projects.

For five years, Rob worked on projects securing access to clean water and sanitation for marginalized communities living outside big cities in developing countries. He’s worked with agencies like Water.org and the Department for International Development in the United Kingdom. Today, he works as a Sustainability Manager for Cargill.

“It’s astounding to me, especially with my experience with NGOs, that a small group of people is stewarding this wonderful place that is so grounding for so many people,” Rob said of the Superior Hiking Trail.

Minnesota is the first place the couple has lived that they’ve wanted to move back to, Rob said. They had their first child two years ago, and recently purchased a home. They’re putting down roots. “Honestly when we came back, we were still growing into Minnesota. There were elements we really loved – the state’s affordability, the down-to-earth nature of people, the love of the outdoors. There’s a portion of Minneapolis and St. Paul that are very internationally oriented. But it didn’t feel like home,” Rob said. “Thru-hiking the SHT, especially after hiking the AT, it situated my mind. This is my backyard.”

Rob was motivated to join the SHTA Board of Directors to give back. “The perception of boards is kind of a strange thing, even what a board is,” he said. “I have benefitted immensely from the Trail. It’s a service role. I want to ensure everyone can benefit from the Trail in the way they want.”

Rob embraced bug netting to experience the summertime beauty of the Northwoods during a June thru-hike of the Superior Hiking Trail in 2020. Photo courtesy of Rob García-Gradoville.

Rob completed his southbound thru-hike (starting at the northern terminus and finishing at the southern terminus) during the height of bug season. “I planned to hike with my dog. I was worried about wolves, but she got so attacked by mosquitoes she went home the first night,” Rob said. “I’d never had a bug shirt, bug pants before. I was super naive to the whole bug situation.”

Rob completed his SHT thru-hike astounded by the beauty and healing the Trail had to offer. “I’ve become very interested in the mental health benefits of the Trail. Most of us have ups and downs with our mental health, but it’s just not talked about enough. I think it’s important we normalize it, talking about it, and dealing with it. It’s normal. We’re all human.

“We’re really lucky that the Trail is always available thanks to organizations like the SHTA,” Rob said. “Whenever you want to go do a hike, you just know it’s there, and there are stewards keeping this therapy session available whenever you want to pop in.”

Thank you, Rob, for joining our Board of Directors and sharing your extensive and diverse skillset to help guide the SHTA’s long-term success!