Amber Travsky’s approach to life is simple but effective — just keep moving and trying new things.
She’s one of Wyoming’s most accomplished outdoors enthusiasts having cycled, climbed, hiked or otherwise explored virtually every corner of the state she was born in.
Along the way, she’s become an accomplished wildlife biologist, a freelance outdoors writer, helped found the annual Tour de Wyoming road cycling event, earned a ninth-degree blackbelt in karate and served as the mayor of Laramie.
At 68, she has no plans to slow down anytime soon.
“I still have goals,” she told Cowboy State Daily during a sit-down interview in Laramie.
When she turns 70, Travsky said she plans to compete in swimming at the National Senior Games.
“Swimming is where I tend to shine,” she said.
The Call Of The Outdoors
Travsky was born in Gillette, but grew up mostly in Casper as one of seven children. Her father was an engineer for the State Soil Conservation Service, so the family spent a lot of time outdoors, sometimes staying in a small cabin in the Bighorn Mountains.
Casper was a great place to grow up for someone who loves outdoor activities.
“You have a mountain, you have a river and you have a lake, all right there,” she said.
As a teenager, she worked with the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC), which is how she discovered her calling in wildlife biology.
Her YCC group was doing some work on the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in the Green River region where she got to see wildlife biologists at work in the field.
“I realized, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” she said.
Some of the YCC leaders were also involved in the Lander-based National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), and through them, Travsky was introduced to adventure outdoor sports such as rock climbing.
At Work In The Field
She moved to Laramie to attend the University of Wyoming, earning master’s degrees in wildlife zoology and exercise physiology.
Those subjects might not seem to have much to do with one another. However, the art of staying in top physical condition is quite important to doing field biology – particularly in a place as rugged as Wyoming, Travsky said.
She took an interest in some of Wyoming’s premier wildlife, particularly elk.
“I went into studying the big guys, not birds and bunnies,” she said.
As her career began in the 1980s, Travsky realized she was in a completely male-dominated field.
“In pretty much every job I had, I was the first woman in that job,” she said. “Every door I was able to go through was opened by a man. And those men got a lot of grief for that, so they’re my heroes. It’s much, much better now. It’s about 50-50 women and men biologists, and people don’t even blink at a woman wildlife biologist now.”
In the early 1990s, she took a brief foray into local politics, serving on the Laramie City Council, including two terms as mayor. After that, she decided she’d had enough of politics.
“When you’re the mayor, people never call you because they’re happy about something,” she said.
Ruff Business Partners
Travsky founded her own consulting business in 1993, and continues working with energy companies on wildlife and ecosystem-related matters.
“I keep them out of trouble. I make sure they’re legal in terms of the Endangered Species Act and other regulations,” she said. “My company is small, it’s just me and my dog.”
Over the years, she’s had three Australian shepherds each in turn being her nearly-constant companion in her fieldwork and various outdoor adventures.
He current dog is Dobby. He was preceded by Muggle and Darth Vader.
“I give my dogs trendy names,” she said. “’Dobby’ and ‘Muggle’ are from the Harry Potter series, because I’m a fan of Harry Potter. ‘Darth Vader’ was because Star Wars was trendy at that time.”
Years ago, she didn’t think a dog would fit in with her work because she worried a pooch would harass wildlife. But then on a camping trip, one of her friends brought along an Australian shepherd, and she saw that the dog — while incredibly energetic — was good around wildlife.
“I thought, ‘I’ve found the dog breed for me,’” Travsky said. “They’re definitely not a couch breed. You have to take them outside and keep them active or they’ll chew up your couch.”
From Ballet To Karate
Travsky said her lifelong interest in the martial arts came about through happenstance.
As a youngster, she’d been taking ballet as a means to learn discipline, good conditioning and controlled movement. But then her ballet instructor retired and she wasn’t sure what could fill that gap.
“At 16, I went into a martial arts dojo, and I did a lot of the same precision of movement I’d learned in ballet,” she said.
She tackled martial arts with her typical tenacity, and excelled at it. She was a martial arts instructor at UW for 30 years. And since 1985, she’s hosted classes at the Laramie Civic Center.
She still teaches karate classes for pre-adolescent children.
It’s her way of encouraging youngsters into her philosophy of staying active. Some children these days “seem to be a bit too much into their mobile devices,” Travsky said.
Freedom On Two Wheels
Bicycles have also been a mainstay in Travsky’s life.
“I grew up in a house with seven kids, so the bicycle meant freedom for me. A bicycle still means freedom,” she said.
Road cycling has always been her favorite, but she’s also done her share of mountain biking. And she’s tried her hand at “fat biking” – or riding cycles with massively oversized tires in the snow.
“Riding a fat bike felt kind of like driving a Mack truck,” she said.
“One of my favorite types of cycling is on a two track, with me on one side and my dog on the other,” Travsky added.
She’s been a huge advocate for the Medicine Bow Rail Trail, 21 miles of spacious cycling and hiking trail between Pelton Creek and Dry Park in Albany County.
“On a single-track mountain bike trail, you’re focused in entirely on the trail. The rail trail lets you sit up and take a look around,” she said.
Travsky helped found the Tour de Wyoming in 1997. It’s an annual multi-day road cycling event that takes riders along some of the Cowboy State’s most scenic routes, and Travsky serves as tour director.
Road cycling might be a fading sport, she said.
“We’re aging out,” and younger cyclists seem more interested in mountain biking, she said.
She also has mixed feelings about the advancements in cycling technology since the early days, when she bombed down trails on bikes with skinny tires and no shock-absorbing suspensions.
“Everything’s gotten so … civilized,” she said.
Elk And Lizards
Having been everywhere in Wyoming, it’s hard for Travsky to pick out one favorite place.
It’s easy to love the mountains, of course, but she’s also developed an affinity for Wyoming’s vast prairie lands.
“In Wyoming, you can look out across some places and think, ‘There’s not much out there.’ But you can find these hidey holes out there. It might be only an acre, or it might be 100 acres, but the hidey holes are where you find the wildlife,” she said.
Lately, she’s enjoyed spending time in the Green River Basin, where’s she’s learned to appreciate lizards, snakes and other such critters.
“I’m really into the reptile-amphibian species now,” she said.
And she’s always admired Wyoming’s wapiti.
“Elk are amazing. They’re just glorious,” Travsky said. “I had to quit hunting because I couldn’t shoot them anymore. Nothing against hunting, but I just can shoot elk anymore.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.