Meet the Explorer: Leah Stankus

Local Dog Mom | West Virginia + Traveler

I am so happy to host another West Virginian on my blog site. Ever since I came across Leah’s profile, I have been intrigued by her content and excited to see the high quality photos she posts and how she represents our state in such a positive light. She came through as a page recommendation through Sydney Bush’s profile. Sydney was one of the first people I interviewed, and now I am able to host her friend and another awesome West Virginian. Take it away, Leah!

Short Biography

Hi, I’m Leah Stankus. I’m a born and raised West Virginia lover. Growing up in the mountain state, I was exposed early to hiking, fishing, camping, and everything outdoors. From there, my love for the outdoors grew, and each free chance I had to get outdoors I took. Now I attend shepherd University studying Environmental Science in the hope of continuing to protect and educate people about the natural world that I love. I also am a professional photographer focusing on elopements, weddings, and adventurous couples.

What do you do for a living, how did you end up in that field? 

Currently, I am a full-time college student studying Environmental Science. I graduate in December 2020. Other than college, I run and own my professional photography Business called “Wanderlust Images.” With weddings and different photoshoots along with studying for endless exams, I stay pretty busy. 

When did you first start enjoying the outdoors?

Growing up in central West Virginia on a small farm, my parents exposed me to the outdoors at an early age. From hiking, camping, skiing, playing in the woods- most of my childhood was spent in the natural world. From there on, I knew the outdoors would always be a special place for me. Years passed, and I made trips out west to California, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and other natural wonders, and it just confirmed that love more. 

What is your favorite place to explore? 

I have so many places that I love to explore, but the “Black Water Falls” area will always hold such a special place in my heart. The towns of Thomas a Davis are small mountain towns. The natural areas, people, and trails are just so amazing there- I can’t get enough of it. 

How many of the 50 United States have you visited? Favorite?

So far, I’ve been to 21 out of the 50 states. A dream of mine is to drive cross country and just camp along the way, so I think I’m going to do that after I graduate college! 

How many countries, where? 

I’ve been to 9 different countries ( Jamacia, The Bahamas, Canada, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Iceland). I just planned my trip to go to two more this summer ( France and Greece), and I’m so excited to get out and see new paces. 

Best hike you have ever had? 

This is a tough one because I love so many of the hikes I’ve taken over the years. One hike that I loved this year was the “Beehive Trail” in Acadia National Park in Maine. Once you get started on the trail, you have to climb up a few rocks, and then you see the steep ledges. When I say you are climbing on the side of the mountain, I mean it ( the trail isn’t even wide enough for two people to walk beside each other). Once you get to the top, the view is so rewarding- I remember just sitting there and looking at the ocean and mountains- it was just so beautiful. 

Essential items for summer hikes/winter hikes in your opinion.

Essential Items (for myself personally) I think items vary per person also. Still, a few of mine include a Camera, extra camera batteries, solar charger, water bottle, snacks, gummy bears, chapstick, a small medical kit. For winter hikes, you first need the correct gear so LAYERS- key in the winter is to be warm or else you can get in some significant trouble. So items like your hiking shoes are crucial to hiking successfully in the winter- I love my north face hiking shoes they are waterproof and super warm, have great tread and light, so they are my go-to’s. Also, with the north face, you have a lifetime warranty, so that is A MAJOR PLUS. A few essential items I always pack when hiking in the winter are gloves, waterproof clothing, water, chapstick, camera (always), warm socks, hand warmers, snacks, just a ton of warm items.

Most comical hike/adventure story? 

The most comical hike I’ve ever been on just actually happened this year. My family and I took a trip out to Denver in Novermber, and one day my dad, brother, and I decided to go to the Rockies. For some reason, I didn’t even think about bringing or renting crampons- and wow, did we need them. I only fell three times, but my dad and brother couldn’t stop busting themselves constantly. By the end of the hike, we had all laughed so hard about the situation we were in tears. 

Scariest hike/adventure story?

I still can’t believe this happened to me, but looking back now, I laugh- at the time, I was SO SCARED. SO my friend and I went to Yellowstone when we were younger together we both had just graduated high school, so this was our first big trip without our parents. Our second day into Yellowstone, we decided to tackle a harder trail to get to the base of this waterfall- a reminder we were EXTREMELY UNPREPARED. Like I’m talking, we were hiking in our Nike tennis shoes, had no bear spray, no extra food, no medical kit- honestly, we had nothing. Anyway, we hike down because our shoes had no traction we ended up sliding down the steep trail on our butts- we ended up getting lost…. in Yellowstone with no bear spray. So the end of the story we got to the base took maybe five pictures, we were covered in mud, and then finally made our way back up somehow.

Upcoming trips planned?

So this summer my only “big” trip planned is I’m going to Europe for almost two weeks and visiting France and Greece. Other than that, I will be doing domestic travel throughout the U.S!

Favorite outdoors gear/lifestyle companies? Any local? 

I love this question, and I know I could go on and on about all of the fantastic companies out there who make great products, but also give back to nature and the environment. Some great companies include Patagonia, REI, Backcountry, and BioLite. A few smaller companies that I love include Earthwell, LovingWV, Treelineand Tide, and I love LOVE Rosalie Haizlett, who is a natural watercolor artist. 

What does conservation mean to you? 

Conservation and the need for sustainability in our society today is something I’m super passionate about. Educating the younger generation about daily tasks and choices they make and how it can affect the environment is something we should start to implement into public schools. Simple changes, like using a reusable water bottle, recycling plastic products, planting a garden, and other simple tasks, can make a huge difference. Also, teaching people who are exploring in nature about “Leaving no trace” and how important it is to stay on the trail to prevent things like damaging organic life and preventing erosion.

What can we do to make sure our parks and wild lands stay clean and pure forever? 

Again educating everyone who is going out in our natural parks and nature about the need for implementing the idea of “leave no trace” and how important it is. Such things like packing all of your waste in and out of the trail. Also, not removing materials from its natural environment ( rocks, plant life). Just educating people about simple things they can do to ensure that future generations can enjoy the same natural beauty we have today.

Leah, thank you so much for allowing me to interview you for my blog. Keep posting your great content and I look forward to keeping up with your travels. Cheers to more adventure!

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