Living Treasure: Craig Martin

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Los Alamos > Craig Martin has experience as a biologist, educator and forester and was instrumental in mitigating fire damage

It is once again time to invite northern New Mexicans to celebrate the contributions of those who have so greatly enhanced life on the Hill. Living Treasures of Los Alamos will honor Lee A. Builta, Rosmarie H. Frederickson and Craig Martin at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Betty Ehart Senior Center. The public is invited to attend the ceremony and reception, sponsored by the Los Alamos National Bank.

Craig Martin
When Craig Martin saw the column of smoke from the Cerro Grande Fire, he knew it would change his life.

“The first thing I picked up was my hammer. That was the first thing I put in my truck,” Martin said.

Thirteen years later, Martin has yet to lay down his tools. Fire mitigation and trail work became his passionate commitment, first as a volunteer and later as Open Space Specialist for Los Alamos County.

When the Cerro Grande Fire struck Los Alamos in 2000, Craig Martin was the right man in the right place at the right time. His unique experience as a biologist, educator, forester and ardent love for the out of doors equipped him to step up and take on the task of helping to organize work to mitigate fire damage to Los Alamos trails and open space and to help reduce the danger that another fire would devastate the community.

“I wish the fire hadn’t happened, but it did,” Martin said. “It’s made me who I am.”

“I’m happy I was able to help, Martin said. “My father taught me that when something needs to be done and there’s no one to do it, you need to step up.”

After the fire, Martin was contacted by U.S. Geological Survey scientist John Hogan about forming an organization that would not only restore trails, but educate the community about fire ecology. Hogan, Laura Patterson, Gerry Washburn, and Martin developed the Volunteer Task Force.

“All we did in 2000 was trail restoration. It occupied us completely. John and I said to each other, let’s keep it going. We decided if we could get kids involved, they’d get the message to their parents.”

Working with Patterson and Washburn, the first project was with Mountain Elementary School. Students completely rebuilt the Quemazon Nature Trail, then turned to creating a nature trail guide. Over several years, students developed the text and illustrations for the guide. Tree planting in the burned area and the rebuilding of the

Perimeter Trail continued through 2002.

Then there was the Seed Ball Project. In 2002-2003, kids would make and distribute 250,000 seed balls to replant the burned areas around Los Alamos. Martin is famous in Los Alamos as the Seed Ball Guy.

“Kids I worked with years ago will come up to me and say, ‘Hey you’re the Seed Ball Guy. I worked on that and it was really great.’”

The Seed Ball Project gave the Task Force the opportunity to involve kids, adults and seniors in the restoration process, and to teach about fire ecology .

Another Task Force project involved working with middle school students to collect data on on the effectiveness of the County’s Fuel Mitigation Project in Ponderosa pine forests. It was a true scientific research project with a real purpose, Martin said.

For his work with the Task Force on the trail system, as well as his organization of the planting of 28,000 pine seedlings in the burned area and the hand seeding of 43 acres, and organizing more than 3,000 volunteers
Martin was awarded a 2001 National Volunteer of the Year Award from the Points of Light Foundation. In 2002, Martin received the Chief’s Award from the United States Forest Service.

Martin attended the University of Delaware, intending to use his biology degree in a career with the National Park Service where he hoped to teach kids about that 1970s buzzword, ecology.

“I took a year off from school, and that turned out to be the most valuable part of my education,” Martin said. “I spent a year walking in the woods, learning by observation. I learned more about the woods doing that than in classes.”

After college, Martin, who comes from a family in the trades, spent two years as a house-framer. “Physical labor attracted me and also the idea of actually building something,” he said.

These two career paths would merge in Martin’s current job as Los Alamos Open Space Specialist, where he does a lot of physical work in addition to teaching kids and adults about the environment and helping to plan for the future of the County’s open space.

In 1987, Martin and his wife June were living in Tucson where June was in graduate school in hydrology. While in Tucson, Martin had worked for the National Park Service, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and taught science at a middle school. When the opportunity for June to have a post-doctoral appointment at Los Alamos National Laboratory came up, Craig learned that some great fly fishing was within 20 minutes of the laboratory and was sold on the idea at once.

“The first day we were here it snowed and we went out and bought cross-country skis,” Martin remembered. “We knew we were going to love it here.”

The couple’s daughter Jessica was a year old. They made the decision that Craig would stay home with Jessica while June worked. He would spend 15 years as a stay-at-home dad, doing all the housework and serving in the volunteer roles many stay-at-home moms assume, such as PTO president.

“We got a call from the Los Alamos New Comers Club Playgroup asking if my wife would be interested in joining. I asked them, what would you think if a man showed up for playgroup? Martin recalled. “That group opened up and let me in. I still have many good friends from those days.”

Martin wanted to do something for the kids in the playgroup and naturally, he thought of one of his own favorite pastimes—hiking. Soon he was leading regular one to one-half mile hikes for up to 35 kids and adults.

“There’s a rule that people only go hiking with Craig once,” Martin joked. “After that, they know better. I know the trail is over here, but something over there looks interesting and pretty soon it’s an adventure.”

After his son Alex as born in 1990, Martin felt the urge to “be an adult sometimes.” He began to work on a book project, rising at 5:30 a.m. before the family was awake to have two hours a day for writing. Martin has written 14 books, several in second and third editions. Martin has also written hundreds of articles and columns.

He has written guide books for hikers, fly fishers, bikers and hot springs enthusiasts, making outdoor New Mexico more assessable to both locals and visitors. Of special interest to County residents are his guides to our town, including Los Alamos Trails and Los Alamos Mountain Bike Trails and Los Alamos Place Names. A number of his books are historical studies of Los Alamos and the surrounding area, including Of Logs and Stone: The Building of the Los Alamos Ranch School and Bathtub Row with Heather McClenahan and Valle Grande: A History of Baca Location No 1.

When Los Alamos County approached Martin about becoming its Open Space Specialist in 2003, he wasn’t sure if he wanted the job.

“They talked me into it, he said. When they asked me how they could help me do the job to the best of my ability, I said just stay out of my way. They still wanted me. It’s been a good relationship for the past 10 years. There are things that can be accomplished from the inside that its hard to get done outside the structure of County government. I do have to go to a lot more meetings,” Martin mused.

The credibility Martin had established in the community has stood him in good stead in his role at the County. Getting County residents to accept proscribed burns is one example.

“People have gotten past the fear that we’ll burn their house down. I want to live here the rest of my life and I want to succeed in making Los Alamos as safe as possible from fire, even if we have to make it a little smokey once in awhile,” Martin said.

Helping to make Los Alamos a destination of tourists is another of Martin’s goals. “We have all the ingredients here, including year-round hiking in White Rock Canyon,” he said.

“June and I are obsessed with the outdoors,” Martin said. “We were spending all our weekends doing trailwork, which is okay some of the time, but I wanted to do something else besides what I do for a living.”

He found the answer in a jazz theory class at UNM-Los Alamos. Both Martin and his son Alex play the saxophone. During the class, Martin met others interested in playing jazz and they began to meet at his house in 2010. So was born the Craig Martin Experience. The seven-piece jazz combo now has about 20 gigs under their belt. Martin gets a kick out of being recognized as a jazz musician rather than for his other numerous roles in the community.

Currently, Martin serves on the boards of the Los Alamos Community Winds and the Friends of Bandelier. He has contributed hundreds of volunteer hours to the Los Alamos Historical Society, Pajarito Environmental Eduction Center, the Boy Scouts and many other community groups. In addition to continuing to volunteer in the community,

Martin hopes to do more traveling and have more weekend adventures when he retires.

Of course retirement probably won’t look all that different from his current job.

“Trail restoration is what I do for fun,” Martin said. “Dorothy Hoard did trail work until she was 72. We’ll see if I can make it that long. I hope so.”