To want to work at Great Camp Sagamore, you have to be a specific type of person: enthusiastic, diligent, and willing to go six months secluded in nature with no cellphone service and limited wifi. Eliza Phillips, Assistant Program Director of Great Camp Sagamore, is this person.
Born and raised in Lancaster, New York on a beef farm, Eliza practically grew up outside. She was “that kid,” who was always outdoors and climbed trees to read her books. Growing up far from cities, Eliza was always able to see clear night skies full of stars. While in high school, Eliza attended a summer camp in the Adirondacks alongside numerous New York City students. That summer, she was stunned to learn that none of them had ever experienced the stars like her before. Spending the summer watching these kids experience the outdoors for the first time inspired Eliza to be an outdoor educator, and introduce people to the environment who may not ordinarily have the opportunity.
To make this dream a reality, Eliza studied Environmental Interpretation at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and picked up a minor in Recreation Resource and Protected Area Management. When she started college, Eliza’s mother joked that she should join ESF’s illustrious timbersports team. Having never tried timbersports but wanting to play along with the joke, Eliza signed up to join. Much to her surprise, Eliza fell in love with the sport and continued on with it for all four years of college.
Her first semester, Eliza spent her time learning the ropes of lumberjacking and timbersports. By her second semester, Eliza had earned a spot on one of the ESF teams and started competing. To start, Eliza’s team stuck her on the events no one else wanted to compete in: standing block and burling. As she practiced these events they quickly became her favorite, and best, events. Eliza excelled at competitions. Thanks to countless days of hard work and practice, Eliza is now one of the top timbersports competitors in the state of New York.
Now graduated from college, Eliza spends her weekends competing in timbersport competitions as a professional lumberjack. Not only does she place at competitions, but she wins money for competing. Eliza says it’s incredibly rewarding to not only compete in her favorite hobby but also win money for something she loves doing. One day, Eliza hopes to compete at the Stihl Timbersport Series, the biggest lumberjack competition in the U.S. which attracts competitors from all over the world.
While she loves the sport, Eliza’s biggest complaint about timbersports is the gender divide between men and women. Just a few years ago there was no women's division in the sport; the women had to compete alongside men. Now there is a women's division, but there are discrepancies between the events that are offered to men and women. Historically, women have not competed in standing block- Eliza’s favorite and best event. Eliza has experienced people say that “women are too weak, they get too tired.” At the few competitions that do offer standing block for women, Eliza proves these people wrong every time. She explains, “that’s the fight now, trying to get the events that men can do that women have not been allowed to do in the past.”
In between chopping wood and fighting for equality in timbersports, Eliza found her way to Great Camp Sagamore in 2018 as a summer intern. Eliza knew she wanted to be in the Adirondacks and teach people about the environment, so Sagamore seemed like the perfect fit. Back for her second year, Eliza now works as the Assistant Program Director and helps plan activities for guests to participate in to help enhance their experience in the great outdoors. When asked about her job, Eliza says she loves “teaching people and being with them as they experience the wilderness, sometimes for the first time.”
Eliza Phillips actively makes Great Camp Sagamore a better place. Between her excitement over and knowledge of different types of plants and animals around camp, dedication to her job, and enthusiasm for timbersports, Eliza serves as a role model for all of the younger interns at Sagamore this 2019 season. Wherever her career takes her, whether she continues to teach and inspire younger generations about the environment or advances her professional career as a lumberjill, Eliza’s impact at Great Camp Sagamore will last forever.