An old colleague — and a new executive director

High Country News gets a new trail guide.


New HCN Executive Director/Publisher Greg Hanscom, on a backpacking trip last summer with his family in Spider Meadow, North Cascades, Washington. Shown from left, Greg, daughters Lucia and Chloe, and wife Tara Thomas.
Courtesy of Greg Hanscom

“On the Road to 50” is an ongoing series of the publisher and editor's notes to our readers, as they travel the region and plan for our 50th anniversary – through community gatherings, individual meetings, and other listening sessions.

Around 25 years ago, Greg Hanscom, then a 20-something-year-old High Country News  assistant editor, asked me if I wanted to climb Mount Lamborn. Though the hike would be tough for me, using crutches on sketchy trails, I had always wanted to reach the top of the peak, which rises 11,300 feet behind HCN’s home office in Paonia, Colorado. And so Greg, who grew up traipsing around Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, picked me up at sunrise one bright June morning.

The first few miles were flat and deliciously cool. Following a gurgling creek, we spotted songbirds and skirted beaver ponds, smiling at the racy carvings shepherds had etched on aspen trunks. But as the trail grew increasingly rocky and steep, fatigue and doubts crept in: Maybe we should just turn back and call it a nice hike. Greg, who could have jogged up and down the mountain in a couple of hours, seemed to be enjoying himself, though, moving patiently at my pace, occasionally trotting ahead to scout the route. We swapped stories as the altitude rose, and before long, we were near the top.

That was when Greg, who was carrying our supplies, said, “Hmmm. We’re out of water.” Without hesitation, he found one of the few remaining snowdrifts underneath the spruce and plunged our water bottles into it, filling them with ice. On the strength of that precious slush, we scrambled up the final pitch to soak in the 100-mile view to Utah’s La Sal Mountains. We made it back to the car by sundown. I remember that hike as one of my most satisfying, made richer by Greg’s approach to the endeavor.

And that is just one reason I am pleased to announce that HCN’s Board of Directors has hired Greg Hanscom to be our next executive director, starting this month. Greg’s familiarity with HCN’s work is deep; when I became director in 2002, I promoted him to editor-in-chief, a role he filled until 2006. During that time, he helped redesign the magazine and broadened our coverage of social and environmental issues. He also experimented with new story forms, including our first-ever science fiction feature.

But Greg has accomplished still more over the last 14 years. His work leading print and digital news organizations on both coasts — including Grist and Crosscut — has given him a nuanced view of the challenges facing nonprofit journalism today. Meanwhile, he has had the life-altering experience of raising a family with his wife, Tara.

HCN and the Western United States face steep challenges ahead, but I am confident that the board has hired a strong trail guide, one who is not afraid to forge boldly ahead, but also willing to take the time to listen to and encourage the rest of us. Look for a message from Greg in an upcoming issue of HCN.

Paul Larmer is the publisher and executive director of High Country News. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

High Country News Classifieds