Throughout his “beautiful career,” local archeologist and author Hank Meals has held a variety of colorful jobs.
His resume includes photojournalism, tree planting, fire fighting, trail construction, cone gathering, wildlife habitat improvement, archaeology, trail guide and interpretation.
“I am fortunate enough to have worked outside in remarkable places for most of my life. It has been an exhilarating experience and I want to share what I’ve learned,” Meals said.
On Saturday, Bear Yuba Land Trust will recognize Meals with the John Skinner Sierra Outdoors Recreation Award for Education during the Oak Tree Ball.
For two decades, Meals has led some of the most popular treks with the Land Trust and is the author of popular books about local trails.
Some of his favorite places are those found within the watersheds of the North and South Yuba River, Bear River and North Fork of the American River, places like the Chimney Rock Trail, the upper reaches of the Downie River and its tributaries, Young America Lake and the road to Mountain Mine, Fordyce Creek, Grouse Ridge and Spenceville Wildlife Area.
“The more time spent outside, the greater the subtlety and depth of the experience. Participating in the environment informs us – we can’t help but absorb what we experience,” Meals said.
A conservation ethic naturally unfolds when people spend time in the places they love, he said.
“We feel a sense of responsibility for it, we care what happens here. In time it’s easy to understand that all ecosystems have value,” Meals said.
For a span of 25 years, Meals worked seasonally as an archaeologist for the Tahoe National Forest.
“Hank had a love for local history and was always aware of the broader connections that gold country history had to the country and to the world,” said retired forest archeologist Dick Markley.
Meals worked summers for the Forest Service, searching large tracts of the national forest for archeological sites, documenting artifacts found at old mining, logging and homesteading sites, as well as evidence of prehistoric Native Americans.
During his time with the Forest Service, Meals enlarged the agency’s oral history and public interpretive programs, said Bill Slater, archeologist for the Tahoe National Forest, Yuba River Ranger District.
“Hank is extremely knowledgeable about the history of this area. He has made invaluable contributions to record, describe and assess the significance of historic mining sites and the overall mining history of this region,” Slater said.
Meals considers himself more of a storyteller than a teacher. Beyond his careful cataloguing of the region’s history, Meals shares the stories he learned of the past through his writing and guided treks.
“Most people know very little about historic land use and how that has shaped today’s landscape. There appears to be a thirst for the stories that have created our cultural landscape. Through my work and personal interests I’ve stumbled upon a lot of those stories and they are simply too rich not to tell,” Meals said.
Currently, Meals is co-authoring a book about the Nisenan people and working on a personal photographic project.
Laura Brown is a local freelance writer.