In this interview, we sit down with TV host and outdoor adventure connoisseur, Jack Steward, from ABC’s Emmy Award-winning show, Rock the Park. Along with co-host and childhood best friend, Colton Smith, Jack leads viewers on thrilling adventures through America’s National Parks. All the while, connecting us with the awe-inspiring feeling that comes from being immersed in the great outdoors.
CLIQ: Thanks for taking the time Jack, we’re big fans. How and when did you first discover your love for the outdoors?
Jack Steward: To some degree, the outdoors have always been a part of my life. But it wasn’t until my family took me on a trip to Yellowstone when I was about 7 years old that it clicked. I remember we pulled into Jackson Hole at night, and I didn’t see anything. The next morning, I walked out and saw the Tetons standing there. I remember that feeling I had as a little kid now and I know that it was pure awe and wonder. That trip was what opened my eyes to how inspiring and empowering the outdoors can be. We have so many memories as a family from that trip, so I have this sense of nostalgia when I go back to Yellowstone or the Grand Tetons.
CLIQ: How did you connect the dots between your love of the outdoors and your passion for photojournalism?
JS: With film as part of my family background, I grew up making movies for fun. When it came time to go to college I knew I wanted to be by Yellowstone and Glacier, so I went to the University of Montana. I was studying photojournalism and I figured that I might as well do my assignments in these places that I love. One thing led to another, and I got into doing Rock the Park.
CLIQ: What drew you to anchoring the show around the setting of National Parks?
JS: The National Parks to me have always been magical. The nature and wildlife is so in your face and I think it comes back to that feeling of awe and wonder that I had as a kid that I just keep chasing.
My buddy Colton and I, we’ve been best friends since second grade, always had these awesome adventures in the National Parks and it became clear to us that these places were special. Not just because they’re a refuge for wildlife, but because they’re a refuge for humans to get away and refill our tanks. We wanted people to know that these places were out there, waiting for them to go and check them out.
CLIQ: We can definitely relate to that. There’s nothing like an adventure in a National Park to make you feel alive.
JS: Right! Things go wrong but after the fact, you’re stoked on all the crazy experiences you just had. It’s “type two fun.”
CLIQ: When the cameras are rolling, you and Colton are pretty active. Behind the scenes, do you guys find time to kick back and soak it all in?
JS: I have two different types of experiences in the outdoors. On one hand, I love the big adventures. But I’d say 70% of the time, nature is my place to get inspired. So I’ll hike out, set up a CLIQ chair, and just soak up the landscape and the scenery. I’ll write in my journal, play my guitar, or meditate. More than nature is a playground, it’s a place for me to discover who I am and what my place is in this world.
CLIQ: You have a vlog titled, “The Pursuit Is Happiness.” That’s a great mantra and it speaks volumes. Can you tell us what that philosophy means to you?
JS: To me the “Pursuit Is Happiness” means that joy and happiness comes from the pursuit of life. We’re always chasing something, but if you learn to define peace and happiness in the moment and in the pursuit of becoming a better person, of living life to the fullest, you start to change the way you experience life and find happiness. My happiness is in the pursuit of stronger relationships, becoming a better person, and finding a deeper sense of who I am. Especially during this crazy time, I’ve learned that my priorities have shifted, and all we have guaranteed is today. More than ever, I try to take life one day at a time.
CLIQ: You guys seem to effortlessly tap into the joy and wonder that spending time in nature brings. Aside from tuning in to your adventures on Rock the Park, how can folks at home incorporate those lessons into their daily life?
JS: What the outdoors has shown me is that we are refined through challenges and struggle. Usually when things are difficult, there’s a lesson to be learned from it. For example, I’ve learned that nature levels the playing field. When you’re out climbing a mountain or rafting a river, the river doesn’t care whether you're male or female, democrat or republican, you're just a human, another living thing out there. It shows us that we’re much more alike and we need each other more than we realize sometimes.
I take those lessons home by trying to remember that all the tough times are an opportunity to grow as an individual and as a community. I hope people take away from the show that there is an opportunity in every situation and that there’s beauty in this world.
CLIQ: You probably get this all the time, but we have to ask, what are your favorite parks, episodes, and adventures so far?
JS: My favorite park right now is Death Valley National Park. Maybe because it is my closest getaway from Los Angeles. But I’ve also just had so many awesome memories and adventures there. If I had to pick a favorite episode, it would be the first time we went mountaineering. We were up in the North Cascades in Washington. It was our fourth episode ever. Our crew basically quit, said it was not possible to climb the mountain with cameras. My cousin, who was fresh out of college and was our production assistant at the time, volunteered to take the camera and shoot the adventure for us. It ended up being a terrifying experience, but we pulled it off!
We had never hung from cliffs that drop off one thousand feet. We had never traversed glaciers with crevasses. We had never stood on a peak the size of a picnic table. There were so many challenges that we had to face, but we found a way to get it done, and it paid off. We actually ended up winning an Emmy for it [laughs].