Inspiring a passion for the great outdoors

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Fish feels most at home on the trail. Here with a Pulaski handy tool, Fish starts up the new portion of the Patterson Trail in Sycamore Grove. As a young child in the early ’60s, Fish went along on canoe trips with his family in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Here he is with his mom and sister (upper), and with his mom (lower).
By Carrie Martin

For Craig Fish, the great outdoors is not just a pastime, it is his job, his hobby and his passion. From working in environmental protection at the Laboratory for 26 years, to volunteering for Volunteers for Outdoor California (VOCal), Fish takes his love of the outdoors and preserving the environment to a whole new level.

Fish’s love for the outdoors runs deep in his blood and was instilled in him early on by his family, especially his father and brother. He spent his childhood in a suburb outside Boston, in Needham, Massachusetts. “As a kid I spent most of my time playing in the outdoors, exploring woods, creeks, reservoirs, sandpits and railroad tracks nearby my house and across town,” Fish said. “I also loved climbing trees, building tree huts in my backyard and riding my bike. But my favorite thing to do was to find paths in the woods and find where they led.”

Fish’s family was instrumental in educating him and helping him build a connection with nature. “On vacations we would car camp or canoe camp, swim, hike and climb mountains,” Fish said. “My favorite memories are of canoe camping. From the time I was a couple of years old I was fortunate to go with my family on canoe trips in New England that my dad would run for the Appalachian Mountain Club. We’d canoe on a lake or river and camp overnight. My dad, who was a fantastic cook, would make lobster Newburg for the participants on his white gas Coleman stoves. On our many family outings my parents, older brother and family friends would identify plants, birds, landforms and the history of the areas we visited. That certainly sparked my interest. After rainstorms, I would play on a private street near my house, learning about water transport and sedimentation. I also remember watching “Wild Kingdom,” “Daktari” and Jacques Cousteau; all shows about exploration, adventure and the earth. By the fifth grade I had a strong desire to study and explore the earth and knew I wanted to work in that industry.”

During high school, Fish was convinced he would follow Cousteau into oceanography or marine bology, but after taking a geology course in college, he completely fell in love with the subject. “I learned about order and balance and actions that humans take that cause ourselves complicated, expensive issues,” Fish said.

“In graduate school I learned about how these processes play out along coastal environments. Then in the work world, I learned to identify and mitigate human impacts. At LLNL, I have extended that learning to how constituents (chemicals, metals and radiological material) move, where to look for them and how to clean them up. I appreciate the challenge and am proud of my history of solving problems and preventing and cleaning up contamination.”
Fish has worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory since May 1994. Working in environmental protection, he has had a number of responsibilities over the years, from supporting decontamination and demolition of former research facilities to supporting the National Ignition Facility operations to coordinating tabletop exercises for Homeland Security. Fish is responsible for LLNL’s new drinking water permit, characterization and control of potentially radiologically impacted materials and equipment and environmental incident response.

While Fish spends his days working at the Laboratory, his weekends are spent building and restoring a network of hiking trails around the Bay Area and Northern California through volunteer organizations. “My inherent belief is that access to the outdoors is essential for physical and mental well-being and that improving access to special outdoor places in our local parks contributes to the overall well-being of our communities.”

Since 2009, Fish has been one of the principal organizers of VOCal. He serves on the project planning team, leads volunteer projects and kicks off new leader training each year. VOCal’s signature events are large, weekend-long trail building or improvement projects throughout the Greater Bay Area.

“At VOCal, we partner with federal, state, regional, county and local agencies from Napa to Gilroy and Livermore to Pacifica,” Fish said. “We’ve even organized projects as far as Big Sur and Sonora. One of my favorite partner agencies is Livermore Area Recreation and Park District. We’ve built a number of new, single-track trails in Sycamore Grove with them. We typically have 60 to 120 volunteers that participate from Friday night to Sunday afternoon. We provide all meals, trained crew leaders, tools and wonderful, satisfying projects that the volunteers can come back and visit for decades. The best part of our organization is the camaraderie that is built or rekindled during the weekend. Half of our labor force each weekend is comprised of a group of regular volunteers that includes a dozen or two from Livermore and Sandia labs.  We’re a fun, diverse and supportive family.”

Organizing and inspiring people is something that Fish enjoys. “I’m driven to mentor others to step up and take on volunteer leadership roles because it is satisfying, builds character and many hands make for light work. Connection with the outdoors is essential to maintaining a healthy life for me. I’ve met many others that share that connection and appreciation and I’ve also learned to appreciate the benefit of giving to others. I’ve been a leader in volunteer organizations since I was in high school. The best, most valuable experiences in my life have been while I was pushing myself to lead and contribute to others, especially in a large group format. Whether it was from teaching lifeguarding, encouraging friends to follow their dreams or leading volunteers to build new trails in the outdoors, giving to others adds a rich, rewarding, fulfilling aspect to life.”

While the outdoors has always played an important role in Fish’s life, inspired early on by his family, he now inspires his own family. He and his wife Stephanie have a daughter and son who they have been taking camping and canoeing since they were babies. “Both of my kids enjoy backpacking with me when we have the chance,” Fish said.

In addition to his family, Fish also leads others on backpack and canoe trips. “I lead about five trips each year comprised mostly of folks that I’ve met through leading trail work,” he said. “The trips include eight to 24 friends of all ages and backgrounds. I’m proud of our track record of safely introducing new people to backpacking. We tend to visit remote locations in the Sierras, but also have explored in Death Valley, Los Padres National Forest, Lost Coast and Lassen.”

One of Fish’s favorite quotes is one that he lives by and comes from one of his favorite books, “Desert Solitaire,” by Edward Abbey: “One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast....a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here…sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious and awesome space.”

Fish is loving life, enjoying his family, thriving in his career, enjoying the outdoors and helping others to enjoy it as well. “I look forward to many years of service to our parks and on a personal level I will always continue to seek adventures outdoors that help me reconnect and be at my best.”

For volunteer opportunities with the Livermore Area Parks and Recreation District visit the web for opportunities with VOCal visit