By Margo Whitmire
High school reunions are tricky for Natalie Bartley. An outdoor educator, guide book author, newspaper columnist and recreational therapist, it’s hard to sum up her career on a name tag. “The first reunion I went to, I decided I better pick a title,” she said. “I put ‘Recreation, Education and Therapy Contractor.'”
Bartley lives in Boise, Idaho, where she writes about sailing, snowshoeing, orienteering and other outdoor pursuits in her outdoor column for The Idaho Statesman. She is the author of two guide books, “Best Easy Day Hikes Boise” and “Best Rail Trails Pacific Northwest,” from Falcon Press Publishing. She also works steadily on assignments for Treasure Valley Family Magazine and Idaho Senior Independent News. An outdoor career is a natural fit for the former U.S. kayak polo team member and licensed backpacking guide, but outdoor journalism wasn’t always on Bartley’s radar as a career choice.
Bartley grew up in Pennsylvania. She moved to West Virginia to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in parks and recreation and worked as a rafting guide during the summers. She met her husband, David Lindsay, when he started working on the same river and they “assigned him to my raft,” she said. “I had summers off to do all of these great outdoor jobs, raft guiding and sailboat director at a Girl Scouts camp,” she said. “It was too much fun to stop and go get a real job.”
She went on to complete her master’s degree in parks and recreation administration at Eastern Kentucky University and a doctorate in education, parks and leisure services from the University of Idaho. Though she wasn’t aware of it at the time, she was also honing her skills as an outdoor writer.
“At that time in the 70s and 80s, they had the rec majors do so much writing–journals, reports–and that really refined my writing skills because they were having to prove this is a valid profession,” she said. “We’re not basket weavers, we’re the people that will run your parks, plan for the wilderness and run your youth programs. They made us write our guts out.”
After school, Bartley worked as an instructor for the Hong Kong Outward Bound School and as an outdoor recreation training coordinator for the U.S. Air Force Model Outdoor Recreation Program. She also traveled to India and Europe to give presentations for the World Leisure Recreation Association. “I’ve always been an outdoor communicator teaching people outdoor skills,” she said.
In the early 90s, Bartley was in the United Kingdom for a World Leisure Recreation Association conference. She visited some friends, who handed her a travel writing how-to book. After years of writing reports, presentations and journal articles as part of her outdoor recreation emphasis, “it was like a light bulb went off in my head,” she said. “Here I was writing for free for publications in the field of outdoor recreation.” Looking through the guide, she was inspired: “What? People are paid for this?”
Bartley went to the library to learn how to sell her outdoor experiences to magazines and newspapers. One of her first bites as a freelancer was with Aquatics International, who took a cover feature about kayak polo.
Early on, she strived for national and international publications, but eventually found it more cost-effective and productive to concentrate on local markets. Rather than trying to keep up with the transience of editors in the publishing industry or wait months for an answer to an article query, Bartley calls up the editor at The Treasure Valley Family Magazine, for instance, and the conversation is something like this:
“Hey, what do you think about these ideas?”
“Yeah, I’ll take two or three of those. Here’s your deadline.”
Of course, larger publications usually pay better, but having local relationships that are a phone call away is more appealing to Bartley. “It’s not bad to get really knowledgeable about a specific area and that’s your expertise and that’s what you’re known for,” she said. “So even though my travels are worldly, I think I’ve settled into an Idaho and regional specialist.”
Bartley joined OWAA in 2001 and the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association (NOWA) shortly after. “She’s a breath of fresh air,” said OWAA and NOWA member Sue Hansen. “More and more women are getting out in the outdoors, but I think she’s a pioneer and a model of what the outdoors is all about.”
To supplement her writing, Bartley teaches kayaking at Boise State University and provides recreational therapy to hospital patients. She also writes about energy efficiency for a utilities company in the off-season. “I prefer variety no matter what my life is,” she said. “It’s not great for retirement budgeting; but life can be really short, it can be over today, so why not try to enjoy it?” ◊
Margo Whitmire grew up in California, where she spent most of her life until moving to Missoula in 2008. She recently completed her studies toward a graduate degree in environmental studies at the University of Montana. She has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism from California State University, Sacramento, and worked as a music editor for Billboard Magazine.
By Margo Whitmire