AL Spotlight: Robbie


Okay. Let’s ask the basics first. What’s your name? What do you do? Where ya from?

Well my name is Robbie O’Donnell, I’m a full-time environmental consultant and part-time photographer, and I’m from a small dot-on-the-map town in northwest Virginia called Purcellville.


What are your favorite outdoor hobbies?

As a kid I used to spend a lot of time on the Appalachian Trail near my house and fishing in local ponds but as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to expand my outdoor hobbies. Through working a lot in coastal regions for school and research I’ve come to love surfing and basically any activity that gets me on the water. Recently, I’ve started to move into the world of climbing for photos and pure fun so that’s currently taking up a lot of my outdoor hobby time.


What first drew you to the outdoors?

I first kind of gravitated towards the outdoors through no decision of by being born into it. As a kid, up until around three or four years old I lived in a cabin in the Appalachian Mountains with the Appalachian Trail basically running through my backyard, so while other kids may have first seen cars or streetlights I was seeing deer, black bears, and shaggy hikers. We moved down into the valley when I was a little but older for school but those mountains were only a short 10-minute drive away so we were always up there camping, hiking, and fishing.


Tell us about one of your favorite trips or moments outdoors:

They’d definitely have to be summer backpacking or rafting trips with my buddies in Virginia. We’ve either backpacked along the AT or done multi-day float trips down the Shenandoah River for years now and they’ve always been some of my best memories. Can’t beat kayaking all day and camping on an island in the middle of a river during a Virginia summer.


I know that you’re really passionate about climate change and have recently started a Climate Journal, can you tell us more about that?

Yeah for sure. I just recently graduated with my masters in marine science where I focused on coastal hazards and change, specifically associated with sea-level rise. After I graduated I started to notice this strong disconnect between the science I was doing concerning climate change and the general public who it was really impacting. So I got the idea to start this project in an effort to increase science communication and, in a way, decipher some of the complex climate science for a general audience in order to both inform and bridge this ever widening gap between scientists and everyday people. It’s currently in its infancy right now but I’m hoping to grow it a little with posts every week concerning a climate topic with some collaboration and input from scientists and anyone who wants to engage in the dialogue. So if there’s something you’ve always wanted to know about climate change reach out and let me know and I’ll try and include it in a journal post.


Okay rapid fire…

Favorite trail snack: Granola anything

Best music to listen to while on a long road trip: 90s radio. My personal favorites are either Third Eye Blind or Modest Mouse, you really can’t go wrong with either.

One piece of gear you can’t live without: Camera

Who’s your #1 adventure buddy: Anyone that’ll tag along with me

Sunrise or sunset: Really depends on where I am but being from the east coast and living by the beach for a couple years I’ll say it’s tough to beat a nice sunrise and morning surf/photo session.


What do the outdoors mean to you? Has your experience outside changed you?

I think I’d more say my experience outside has shaped me rather than changed me because it’s the reason I am where I am today. And I can’t really put into words what the outdoors means to me but I think a short story I’ve experienced does a pretty great job. A few years ago I was in Yellowstone fly fishing with my uncle and a friend of his and we found ourselves back at the cabin one night talking around a fire with some beers talking about life and religion and everything in between. We were considering what drove people to go to church each and every week because I was remarking on how strange it seemed to me. My uncle got up to go check on dinner and his friend had a comment that’s always stuck with me. He said something along the lines of, “I think people go to church or a place of worship because that’s where they experience “God”, in whatever form that takes for them or their religion. Now your uncle and I have never been ones for churches or places like that, instead, we go outside and come to places like this, and this is where we experience “God”, in whatever form that takes.”. I’m not an overly religious guy but I’ve mulled over these words for years now and, while I think I’ll never be able to fully grasp their gravity and scope, I think they fully epitomize what the outdoors and wild places mean to me.


We gotta know, what are some of your bucket list destinations?

Oh man that’s a tough one because I keep seeing all these amazing places and adding them to my list. The ones at the top though? I’d definitely say Patagonia. Also the islands of Haida Gwaii off the coast of British Columbia, where I’m looking to do a project focusing sea level and climate change on the island.


Find robbie on social media:


Instagram: @odonnelloutside

Facebook: Robbie O'Donnell Photography

Twitter: @odonnelloutside