Mourning the Loss of Robbi

As the weeks have ticked by, it’s hard to put into words the loss that the Adirondack community has been facing with the passing of Robbi Mecus. She meant so much to so many people; touching the lives of LGBTQ+, climbers, outdoors enthusiasts, those who worked with her and who loved her. I met Robbi before she became a trans woman. At first, she was just another forest ranger walking into the High Peaks Information Center to work with the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) staff. Watching Robbi become her authentic self was amazing to see. It took guts to come out in a male-dominated field and strength to handle everything that came with it.

I got to interact with Robbi mostly at work. Working at ADK overseeing the Summit Stewardship Program at the time, I would run into Robbi in the parking lot, in the woods, and during rescues. There are seasons where you seem to run into the same forest ranger over and over again and there were multiple years when Robbi was that ranger. After Robbi responded to yet another incident that I called in where an individual needed to be rescued, I joked with her that we needed to stop meeting like this. She laughed and whole-heartedly agreed.

As a forest ranger, she always made people feel safe. Even when people misgendered her, she would gently correct them, but the focus was always on the individual who needed rescuing. I remember her saying to one person, “It’s she, not he, but let’s not worry about that right now. I’m here to help you.” As a summit steward, I felt reassured that Robbi was the ranger they were sending in to take over. She was kind, level-headed, humorous–everything you needed to be a good, compassionate forest ranger.

Robbi was also well-spoken and smart. Not all forest rangers are good at talking to a camera or comfortable being interviewed, but Robbi shined in the spotlight even though she didn’t like it. She would talk to the press, do outreach with groups that came to the High Peaks, and connect with recreationalists on social media, using any method to better connect people to the outdoors and promote responsible recreation. She went above and beyond to make the Forest Preserve a better-protected and wilder place.

She was an amazing writer. I remember hearing her read excerpts of pieces written about her life. She was a first responder during 9-11 and it deeply affected her; how could it not? Digging through rubble, finding human remains and mementos. She was worried about how it would affect her health as she got older; whether she would get cancer from being exposed to so many chemicals. Another piece she read was about rock climbing and being a trans woman. Both pieces were so powerful and took my breath away. It just solidified to me what a special person Robbi was.

One of her favorite anecdotes she liked to tell new summit stewards was how during 2020 a person confused her for a summit steward. Normally it’s the other way around, summit stewards getting misidentified as forest rangers, no matter how many times you repeat your title. Since there was a huge uptick of hikers that year due to the pandemic, summit stewards got a lot of press for being on the front lines protecting the alpine summits. When Robbi was hiking in uniform, a person said to her, “Wait, are you a summit steward?!?!” in an excited voice. That tickled Robbi. She said it was the year where it was cooler to be a summit steward than a forest ranger.

I’ve been struggling to find the words to talk about Robbi. How can one try to encapsulate someone else’s life? Especially someone as special as her. You can’t. I just feel lucky to have known her in the small way that I did. I know a lot of other people feel the same, whether you were rescued by her, or she taught you how to ice climb for the first time during the Adirondack Queer Ice Fest, or she answered your camping questions in the parking lot. She made the Adirondack Park a better, more welcoming place. I’m proud of her and she will continue to inspire me.

It feels like there aren’t enough words, but I welcome you to read more tributes to Robbi. There is NCPR’s Emily Russell’s remembrance, Cameron Dunn’s heart-wrenching tribute, Caitlin Kelly’s beautiful homage, and AWA’s own Pete Nelson’s warm words.

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