As a child, Christopher Mattrick, MS ’92 wanted to be a forest ranger. “I had no idea what that was,” he said. “But now I’m kind of like a forest ranger. I’ve achieved my childhood dream.”
Mattrick is the first and only full-time botanist for the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF). His job for the last six years has been to monitor plant species in the WMNF, which covers 800,000 acres in central and northern New Hampshire. It involves a lot of desk work for someone who wanted to be a forest ranger. But then comes spring, and Mattrick heads out the office door and into the forest. “I can’t wait for the end of April,” he said.
“Wandering around, looking!”
Growing up in Suffield, Connecticut, Mattrick worked outdoors on a tobacco and hay farm. “I lived on the side of a mountain, so I was always wandering around, looking at one thing or another,” he said. After earning a bachelor’s degree in recreation management from the University of Vermont in 1988, he worked short-term jobs making cheesecake was one of them until the director of the Vermont Land Trust advised him to get a graduate degree. Mattrick applied to Antioch University New England (AUNE) and, for six months, commuted from Burlington, Vermont. “But I was missing out on the whole Antioch experience, so I moved to Keene,” he said.
While at AUNE, his career direction changed, thanks mostly to environmental studies professor Tom Wessels. “Interpretation and birds: those were my interests. But I came out more interested in plants,” he said. “Tom Wessels changed my perception, the way I thought about things, and how I looked at the forest. He had the effect of always making it interesting and arresting. He was the best professor I ever had.”
Mattrick majored in environmental education and communications. His practicum was editing “Notes and Niches,” the Environmental Studies Department newsletter, and working at the Monadnock Children’s Environmental Center. It was at AUNE that he met his wife, the former Jennifer Astin (MS ’94), now a fiber artist. They run Frostflower Farm in Campton, New Hampshire, where they live with their three children and some sheep, chickens, and donkeys.
The seacoast and the forest
From AUNE to the White Mountain National Forest was another convoluted journey for Mattrick. After graduation, he went to work as a naturalist with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. At its Lost River Reservation in Woodstock, New Hampshire, he helped care for a garden of native northern New England plants. The experience cemented his love of plants and was the beginning of his botanical career.
A few years later, the Mattricks moved to the New Hampshire seacoast so Jennifer could work for Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, where she was the contract administrator for the construction of the Sandy Point Discovery Center and later the organization’s first volunteer and events coordinator. (She went on to run the volunteer program at the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Drumlin Farm.)
Mattrick got a job with the New England Wild Flower Society as the curator of a five-acre garden of rare plants in Framingham, Massachusetts. Later, as senior conservation program manager, he developed a corps of volunteer botanists who collected data on rare plants. By the time Mattrick left that job, seven hundred volunteers throughout New England were working to monitor and conserve about one hundred rare plant species. Another group of four hundred volunteers convened by Mattrick were working on the control of invasive plant species.
Meanwhile, Mattrick said, he was “pestering” the WMNF staff about hiring a botanist. Eventually, they advertised the job, and he applied and was hired.
Serving the greater good
Much of Mattrick’s job is making sure that projects in the WMNF such as trail maintenance and bridge and road repair don’t undermine rare plant species. He and two seasonal botanists survey projects for their effects on rare and invasive plants. He also writes analyses required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
Public service has been central to Mattrick’s career. “I like the concept of serving the greater good. I think I have always felt this way-even my work with New England Wild Flower Society developing and managing volunteer programs was a level of public service,” he said. “I am at heart, in my small way, helping to manage and conserve public land-your land, the people’s land.”