Meet Merrill Gardens – Hiker in Chief Corneil Vacirca

We’re rounding out Fit and Fun Month at Merrill Gardens with a profile of one of our Fittest and Most Fun team members, Corneil Vacirca. We sat down and had a conversation about hiking and the outdoors.

1) Hi Corneil. Can you tell us a little bit about your role at Merrill Gardens?
I am the Director of Sales. My mission is to help educate, equip and encourage our community sales teams so that they can help more people understand how great life can be when they choose to move into one of our communities. I help develop programs so our team members can focus on building relationships with our future residents and their families, and walk them through what they need to know when making this very important life decision.

Corneil Hikiing2) A little bird told us you are an outdoor and hiking enthusiast. What drew you to this activity?
Sometimes keeping all of the balls in the air can get a little overwhelming. For me, spending time in the outdoors is the ultimate escape! No phones, no computers, no deadlines. Just me and the beauty of God’s creation and a great physical challenge! My husband is a fisheries biologist for the US Forest Service who lives and breathes the outdoors. He took me for my first real hikes. (If he ever tells you the destination is “just over that ridge” prepare to hike for at least 3 more hours!). I fell for him and the outdoors in one fell swoop! It’s been a 20+ year love affair with both that’s still going strong!

3) Do you have a favorite place in Seattle to hike?
I actually make my home in Wenatchee and spend most of the work week in Seattle. So the only “hike” I’ve done in Seattle is in Ravenna Park, which is lovely. But in Wenatchee, I love hiking the Wenatchee Foothills Trail. The Sage Hills trailhead is less than a mile from my front door, so it is great for a quick trail run or an easy hike. The wildflowers are amazing in the springtime!

4) If someone wanted to get started with some easy hiking, where would you suggest they start?
Start in your own neighborhood! Especially here in Seattle, there are great walking trails all around. If you’d like to get away from the city and more deeply into nature, the great thing about Seattle is that you can drive 30-45 minutes in any direction and be able to find a trailhead. The Washington Trails Association has a great website and if you click on the “Find a Hike” button, your possibilities are endless!

Corneil Camping5) What’s the toughest hike, mountain, marathon, etc.. that you tackled and completed?
I’ve been an avid day-hiker for many years, but last year I graduated to multi-night backpacking trips. Our best (and longest) trip of the summer was a three day/night trip in Central Washington (Leavenworth/Chelan area) from Phelps Creek Basin, through Spider Meadows and over Spider Gap, through Lyman Lakes, Heart Lake and to Holden Village. It was a total of about 21 miles.

6) Ever seen a scary animal on the trail? I saw a bear camping on the Rogue River years ago and almost paddled home. (I was camping, not the bear.)
Fortunately I haven’t run into any scary animals on a trail. But we did see pretty fresh bear track on the trail near Heart Lake last summer. We did have a camping trip many years ago when a bear thrashed around our campsite looking for food. He destroyed a foam cooler and broke into a regular cooler. We learned that lesson the hard way – now we tie up all of the food in a tree!

7) What’s the right thing to do if I see a bear on the Burke-Gilman trail?
Don’t run! Hopefully you are prepared and have bear spray, just in case.

8) Besides bear spray, is there a piece of hiking equipment or clothing that we all should own?
Proper fitting hiking shoes can make or break your hike! (If you read Wild by Cheryl Strayed you get a very vivid picture of not having the proper footwear – ouch!). If the feet aren’t happy – the hiker isn’t happy!

9) What are some other outdoor activities you enjoy?
I enjoy running (especially when I’m able to visit our communities in Southern California and run along the beach!), swimming, snorkeling and biking. I tried paddle boarding last summer and that was awesome! Ohme Gardens in Wenatchee had a free outdoor yoga class last summer and that was great – though don’t know if that technically qualifies! 🙂

10) In a city where the weather is so unpredictable, how do you get outdoors during some of those “less sunny” months?
I grew up in the high desert of New Mexico, so I wasn’t sure how I’d adjust to Seattle’s weather, but I have to say it is really not that bad (don’t worry, I won’t tell the rest of the world!). Give it an hour or two and it usually changes up! And it is hard to beat a sunny day in Seattle – there is no better city to enjoy on a gorgeous sunny day!

Corneil Mountain 11) What’s your favorite part of being outdoors?
I love the sounds and the colors. Hearing the wind rustle through the trees, the water running over the rocks of a stream, the squirrels squeals warning their fellow creatures that we’re coming and the sound of my boots hitting the dirt, just makes me happy. When the blue of the sky meets the green of the trees and the grey of the mountains spotted with white snow all reflected in the crystal clear mirror of a glacial lake… it is my paradise and instant “ohm” for me!

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