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August 5th, 2020 at 8:40AM

A picture of Johnny Fleming with five other fellow Forest Service colleagues posing for a picture at the top of Mt. St. Helens.
Johnny Fleming (top row, second from right), Forest Service Ropeway Engineer, with fellow Forest Service colleagues after a successful hike to the top of Mt. St. Helens in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington. (Fleming Family Photos.)

Johnny Fleming grew up mostly in Alabama, but also lived in other states, including New Mexico, Washington, and Kansas, due to his father’s jobs in the military and the oil and gas industry. Because of living in different environments growing up, Johnny likes to say that he had the good fortune to experience life in both urban and rural settings and developed an appreciation for both small town and big city communities.

Johnny has worked for the Forest Service as an engineer since 1999. Over the course of his wildland management career, he’s worked in a number of roles as an engineer including as a road design engineer, facilities engineer, bridge engineer and now a ropeway engineer.

As a ropeway engineer, Johnny’s primary responsibility is to monitor the operation of ski lifts and other recreational facilities located at ski areas or other special use permitted areas on National Forest lands. Monitoring means to assess and ensure compliance so he rigorously review plans for new ropeways, including aerial ski lifts, surface lifts, rope tows, and conveyors, as well as summer use facilities such as zip lines and climbing walls.

Johnny works closely with ski areas and industry professionals to make certain that these facilities are designed, constructed, operated, and maintained safely. Monitoring these facilities involves utilizing knowledge from several engineering disciplines including mechanical, electrical, and structural engineering.  

What is your favorite part of your job?

Being able to ski as I monitor operations at some of the best ski areas in the world, which also happen to be on Forest Service land, is amazing and one of my favorite parts of my job. Even more fulfilling for me is the satisfaction I get from contributing to a safe and fun experience for the public. This sometimes means working in extreme weather conditions, participating in inspections during the pre-season prior to opening, or in more benign condition during summertime construction periods. Working for the Forest Service these past 21 years has been an awesome experience. Any time I’m in the mountains is a good time!

Who inspired you growing up?

My father was a big inspiration. He was instrumental in introducing me to hiking and camping in our public lands. We frequently took road trips to visit National Parks and forests. I grew up with a love of exploring the natural wonders within our country. I also have a great appreciation for experiencing new challenges and skiing was one that I took up as a young adult and quickly grew to love.

Johnny Fleming in a group of about 40 engineers where he represented the United States at the International meeting of Ropeway Authorities.
Johnny Fleming (middle row, second from right, white shirt), FS Ropeway Engineer, representing the United States at the International meeting of Ropeway Authorities in 2018. (Fleming Family Photos.)

What do you like to do for fun in your free time?

I love to be outdoors with my wife and family. I have four kids who range in age from 17 to 27 who are quite busy with their own lives and interests, but we all strive to connect when we can and hike, jog, ski, or whatever else we can do outside together. I’m blessed to live in the state of Oregon, which affords me the opportunity to explore all sorts of different landscapes, whether it’s the coast, the mountains, or the desert, all within a short distance from my home in Eugene.

Describe a recent, current, or upcoming project that you’re currently working on.

One exciting project that I recently worked on is a three-stage zip line located at Mt. Bachelor Mountain Resort near Bend, Oregon. Mt. Bachelor is one of the largest ski areas in the Pacific Northwest Region. In recent years, Mt. Bachelor has expanded its recreational opportunities for the public to include use of existing ski lift facilities during the summer, as well as lift-served mountain biking and scenic lift rides. This new zip line installation is a series of three zip lines that begins at the top of one of the area’s ski lifts. The three zip lines have a combined length of over 1 mile with a vertical drop of almost 1,400 feet.

Initial work on the concrete foundations and support platforms were completed last year. During that period, I reviewed the project drawings and specifications for compliance with the area’s special use permit. I also monitored the placement of structural concrete and construction of the landing platforms. Finally, I was present for the critical final tests of the zip line brake systems.  The brake tests were successfully completed, and the zip lines are now open to the public.

Describe a professional or personal achievement that you are particularly proud of.

I’m proud to be a licensed professional engineer. Becoming a professional engineer required a lot of study, hard work, and commitment, and I was able to accomplish this goal earlier in my career with the Forest Service. Engineering has a direct impact on people’s quality of life. As a engineer, my duty is first and foremost to ensure the health and safety of the public. The services provided by engineers require impartiality, fairness, and equity. Engineers must perform their duties under a standard of professional behavior that requires adherence to the highest principles of honesty, integrity, and ethical conduct.

What are some of the greatest challenges confronting your field?

Climate change is a big challenge for ski areas. As average winter temperatures rise, weather patterns may change, snow packs may decrease, and some ski areas may see reduced periods for viable operations. Some areas may cease to remain economically viable at all.

A picture of Johnny Fleming standing on top of a large tower foundation to pour concrete into, snow can be seen in the background.
Concrete placement for a tower foundation during construction of new ski lift at Mt Bachelor Ski Resort on the Deschutes National Forest. (Fleming Family Photos.)

What are some of the most promising strategies being used by the Forest Service to address these challenges?

The Forest Service and the ski industry are working together to promote sustainable options for transportation to and from ski areas. Ski areas have also worked to reduce their carbon emissions by investing in energy efficiency, constructing green buildings, and operating using renewable energy and alternative fuels where feasible. Some ski areas are investing in snow-making systems that provide supplemental snow for lean periods, as well.

You mentioned that ski areas are just for winter. Could you explain that?

Ski areas are looking at opportunities for the public to visit and recreate during seasons besides winter. In 2011, the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement act was passed by Congress. This legislation has given the Forest Service the ability to approve recreation facilities at ski areas that can be operated for the public during the summer. Some of these facilities include zip lines, rope course facilities, lift-served mountain bike trails, and mountain coasters. These new facilities and the activities they provide may allow ski areas to hedge against future climate change, while also providing increased economic benefits to nearby communities.

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to serve their country as a Forest Service employee?

Perseverance is key. It can be challenging to secure a position within the agency but the rewards for those that are successful for can be immense.