Bedenbaugh is living out his passion as a utility forester in Montana 

The quote on his Instagram profile says it all: “The mountains are calling and I must go…” It’s a quote from the American naturalist John Muir. And Harrison Bedenbaugh ’22 has taken every opportunity to go to the mountains — during college, in the summers, and now to live and work in Helena, Montana, as a utility forester.

At Clemson, he double majored in forest resource management and wildlife and fisheries biology. Ask him which is his favorite, and he’ll decline to choose. “They’re both equal,” he says. 

And his life reflects that. As a student, he got involved with Clemson’s Fire Tigers, one of the nation’s only extracurricular wildland firefighting programs in higher education. They’re led by Helen Mohr ’97, M ’02, who says Bedenbaugh was one of the most engaged group members. 

“His first prescribed fire, he came up the fire line exhausted from a very busy day, and in an exasperated voice said, ‘Does anyone have a boot lace?’ The fire had burned right through his laces on his new fire boots that day,” she says. “He is well-loved by all the Forest Service folks.”

If he wasn’t in class, his dad, Todd Bedenbaugh ’87, says, “he was in the mountains hiking, hunting, fishing, living off the land, making homemade bows and arrows, arrowheads, making his own skinning knife out of deer antlers and flint, and just exploring nature.”

During COVID-19, Bedenbaugh spent his days in the mountains; when it was time for class, he would pull out his phone and participate on Zoom before returning to scouting and hunting. “A lot of things we talked about in class, I could see when I was hunting,” he says. 

He says he was lucky enough to get a big buck during that time. “When I got that deer — in an area where people don’t often have that kind of luck, I wept like a baby. I felt like if I could do that, I could do anything.”

The summer before his senior year, Bedenbaugh had run into trailblazers in Table Rock State Park, inspiring him to pursue a job trailblazing in Plains, Montana. He spent the summer cutting trees, breaking them up, clearing trails. And his experience with the Fire Tigers paid off when he was asked to join the efforts fighting wildfires for nine days.

“I got to go out on some big fires and met a lot of firefighters,” he says. “I hung out with some smoke jumpers, including a rookie and a guy in his 50s — that man could walk up and down mountains. These guys are the most elite of firefighters.”

Bedenbaugh came home to finish his last year of school. After graduating and spending a brief stint in Asheville, North Carolina, he realized he couldn’t stay away from Montana. As a utility forester, he walks along power lines and assesses trees — what needs to be trimmed, what needs to be removed. He started in October of 2022. 

“I was post-holing in snow all through the winter,” he remembers. “But it was adventurous. It makes you tough.”

Looking back, he credits Clemson for awakening his passions, particularly research with Professor Donald Hagan and a Creative Inquiry about trapping with Professor Webb Smathers.

“I learned a lot about myself at Clemson,” Bedenbaugh says. “I found a passion of mine, and I’ve been very happy with it ever since.”

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