25 Writers and Photographers That Have Inspired Us Across the Decades

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Editing a magazine is easy. The real work is done by the writers and photographers. Over the past 19 years, I have been lucky to work with the very best.

Bettina Freese is a lifelong mountain biking badass and adventure mom who has been with the magazine since its earliest days. She wrote our biking column for years and penned our most inspiring pedal-powered pieces. She highlighted women warriors and tackled controversial topics like e-bikes, Strava, and road rage, but many of her stories were hilarious misadventures involving poison ivy, naked biking, and biking in a purple tutu. She is the one of the most inspiring outdoor adventurers I know.

Marcus Wohlsen was our very first staff writer. He set an incredibly high bar and is still one of the very best writers ever to grace our pages. He threw himself into every assignment—whether biking from Asheville to Brevard or hang gliding off Lookout Mountain. But one of his best stories was a colossal failure. He had planned a rugged hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in winter. After post-holing through knee deep snow, he ended up in a hotel room in Gatlinburg watching movies and eating chocolate. Today he is a senior editor at WIRED Magazine, but he got his start writing for us. 

Since then, five phenomenal staff writers have each elevated the quality of our magazine: Jedd Ferris, Graham Averill, Jack Murray, Jess Daddio, and Ellen Kanzinger (and digital editor Shannon McGowan). Each has brought their own unique voice and style, and their stories have inspired me and countless readers over the years.

Jeb Tilly and Laura Parsons wrote the magazine’s first features, and they were instrumental in mentoring me.

Anne Riddle is the best writer-athlete I have ever encountered. She is one of the country’s top ultrarunners of all time, with dozens of victories, several trail records, and a second-place finish at the World 100K. She also writes as powerfully, passionately, and gracefully as she runs. For years, she shared candid insights about what the trail has taught her, inspiring the next generation of athletes and adventurers.  

Steven McBride shot several of our all-time favorite cover photos, including cover shots of mountain biking daredevils, conservation heroes, and A.T. speed record holder Jennifer Pharr Davis, whom he captured atop Big Bald on the Appalachian Trail. His photos have appeared on the cover and interior of the magazine for two decades. Most recently, his powerful photos of Douglas Falls, Craggy Gardens, Staire Creek, and Corner Rock have been instrumental in leading the campaign to create Craggy Wilderness and National Scenic Area, which could be North Carolina’s first-ever National Scenic Area and only the country’s eleventh.

The only photographer with more cover photos is Harrison Shull, a top climber and pro photographer. Skip Brown and Derek DiLuzio also contributed some of the best images in our 25-year history. All of these photographers discounted their work dramatically so we could afford them.

Wade Mickley was the best illustrator BRO has ever hired. For over a decade, Wade provided clever, colorful, and creative illos for feature stories and monthly departments. One of his most memorable was a portrait of coal baron and convicted felon Don Blankenship. Wade’s illustrations provided humor and insight to every story.

Whitewater paddler Chris Gragtmans wrote a story about his first descents down the region’s biggest waterfalls that is still one of the most popular and powerful stories we’ve published. He also wrote several pieces about paddlers giving back to the outdoor community. 

Sam Evans is one of the most humble and underappreciated outdoor athletes of the Blue Ridge—and also a helluva writer. There is simply no other athlete who can compete at an elite level in so many different sports. Evans has won some of the biggest bike races in the region, and he is also a top-notch ultrarunner and gonzo paddler. He is also an all-star conservationist; he is senior attorney at Southern Environmental Law Center, and his writing has focused on protecting the places where we play. His essay about mountain biking and wilderness is probably the single best piece of writing I’ve published. 

Nicole Crane wrote one of the very first stories I assigned about development and access threats to the Wesser Creek Trail. At the time, she was living near the trail and working for the Nantahala Outdoor Center. She quickly distinguished herself as one of our best writers and athletes, and she remains a top regional runner, biker, and paddler.

Josh Kelly wrote one of our most memorable features—a powerful story about old-growth forests. Josh has hiked beneath more old-growth forest than anyone in the East. He spent years surveying most of the old-growth in North Carolina and Tennessee, and his story highlighted ancient Appalachian forests that still exist today. 

Kim Dinan wrote an amazing book, The Yellow Envelope: she and her husband receive an envelope containing a check for a large sum of money and instructions to give it away. It’s an incredible read. I felt really lucky that she was willing to write for us. For the past four years, she has unearthed some of the most important environmental issues facing our region.   

Jay Curwen is one of the best athletes of the Blue Ridge, and for years he has been a charismatic leader of the regional outdoor community. He has won ultras, adventure races, and triathlons, and he shared those adventures with our readers. His stories and essays always had the insights of an elite athlete, but Curwen always mixed in humor and humility.  

Mirna Valerio was writing about race and the outdoors long before anyone else. As an African American ultrarunner and cyclist, she has led the effort to redefine traditionally white outdoor spaces, Her candid, humorous, and incredibly insightful essays about running while Black should have awoken us all a lot sooner. 

Jay Hardwig wrote the absolute funniest and most entertaining story I’ve ever published: he decides to take the Presidential Fitness Test as an adult. He joins a local elementary school P.E. class to take the challenge, and he goes head-to-head with first graders in chin-ups and the shuttle run. 

Emily Satterwhite and Mason Adams wrote some of the first stories published about the tree sitters along the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Those protestors—and those stories—have helped turn the tide against pipelines in Appalachia.

Daniel DeWitt and Wally Smith were the conservation voice of the magazine for many years. Dan wrote about the Pisgah-Nantahala Forest Plan, the proposed Nolichucky Wild and Scenic River, genetically modified chestnut trees, coal ash, and red wolves—the most endangered animal on the planet. Wally wrote many personal essays about life in coal country, providing powerful insights into the past, present, and future of the coalfields. 

Doug Schnitzspahn, editor of our partner publication Elevation Outdoors in Colorado, has shared many insights and some of his best stories with BRO. He embodies the spirit of outdoor adventure better than anyone I know, and he inspires everyone with his words and way of life.  

I did not have space to include dozens of other writers and photographers—thank you all for making my job so easy and our magazine so meaningful. You have poured your hearts into our pages. I am so lucky to have worked with each of you, and I am so grateful for all of the insights and inspiration you have shared. 

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