Here at Venture Outdoors, volunteers help us reach our goals every day. Making sure everyone has a chance to enjoy getting outside is a group effort, and those who freely give their time to help us achieve that goal keep the dream alive.

To recognize these efforts the Rock Star award is given for excellent trip leading and above and beyond service to the organization. Additionally there are two Best Boot Awards, one chosen by staff and one nominated by fellow trip leaders or program participants.

Meet the 2018 awardees!

Meet Larry Castner

Best Boot Winner

In 2010 Larry Castner and his wife, Priscilla, joined Venture Outdoors to fulfill their love for hiking. They attended Venture Outdoors hiking programs with volunteer trip leaders who showed them the joys of the outdoors while teaching them how to stay safe. Five years later, Larry and Priscilla decided it was time for them to be volunteer trip leaders who helped others enjoy the great natural resources in our region.

Larry’s first trip as a volunteer on was an Urban Fitness Hike on the Southside Slopes when one of the trip leaders had to withdraw due to illness. This soon became his favorite hikes in the winter because of the fantastic vistas of Pittsburgh at night, but his favorite is the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail. This hiking trip is 70 miles long completed in a series of seven hikes. If he had three days off work to do anything, he’d go back to the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail.

“Completing the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail can be a challenge but the trail rewards you with beautiful and varied scenery as well as some changeable weather,” said Larry.

Hiking is one of Larry’s favorite outdoor activities. He finds hiking to be a great way to enjoy the outdoors with family, friends and his dogs as well as it being a year-round activity. His love for hiking took him on vacation to Scotland to hike the West Highland Way where he decided to get the full Scottish experience by ordering haggis at dinner on the first night of the hike.

The Best Boot winner, Larry, continues to be a volunteer trip leader and is inspired to stay as a trip leader because of the joy participants get out of the programs. He enjoys sharing the trail with Priscilla and his dogs, Oreo and Cookie.

Meet Mara Addison

Rock Star Winner

Mara Addison is one of our two Rock Star winners. She completed her outdoor leadership training in February 2017 because felt she could have a positive impact on the public youth and family outings. She loves being able to have fun, act silly and do whatever is needed to keep the kids present and enjoying the outdoors.

“As with any outing, you need to take into account the age and physical abilities of the participants,” said Mara “I attempt to keep things moving and to interact as much as possible with the kids.”

She leads youth and family programs with her daughter so they can spend quality time together by being active. Mara always introduces her as the junior assistant because she helps take care of the younger children along the way and is the best PR device. Mara and her daughter have fun geocaching and kayaking, but they mostly lead specialty hikes.

Her favorite thing to do is be in a tandem kayak in the middle of North Park Lake, on a beautiful sunny day, watching the blue heron. Her daughter is sitting in the front of the kayak, lazily dragging her hand through the water as she drifts off to sleep. Mara enjoys the outdoors, but wouldn’t be seen without her amazing daughter by her side taking in all of mother natures beauties.

Meet Dave Conti

Rock Star Winner

Dave Conti, our second Rock Star winner has been a volunteer since 2012. The outdoors have helps Dave find a mental and physical balance point. He wants help others find that feeling in creative ways, even with just a guided walk around a neighborhood. I also saw an opportunity to learn new skills and take involvement in activities such as paddling to a new level.

“I’d like to thank all the trip leaders who have taught me how to make a trip more meaningful and memorable. I’ve learned so much from watching and listening to others,” said Dave. “Thank you to the staff for making these volunteer opportunities possible. And thanks to the members and participants who making getting outside so much fun.”

Dave would spend his day off work going hiking and sleeping a hammock. Living outdoors is something he loves to do especially camping, backpacking and kayak-camping. A trip ending with a tour of a cultural or historic attraction is Dave’s favorite experiences with Venture Outdoors.

Join the Team

Venture Outdoors is powered by volunteers. Thanks to all their efforts over 21,000 people joined a hike, climb, bike ride, or workshop last year.

Help make it easy for everyone to get outdoors. Join the team!