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John climbed mountains, kayaked big water, and rode epic trails while traveling all around the country. He found and married his perfect soul mate and they had begun building a life together. John fit more adventure in his thirty years than we thought possible. He always had time for a little guitar. John showed us a life well lived.

~John’s father, Herb Wilburn


John was an avid kayaker. This video shows his time on the river and what it was like to be out there with him.

John’s Education and Career

John Duncan Wilburn was a longtime kayaker, traveler, mountain climber, and biker. He had a strong passion for the outdoors and was always up for the next adventure. He died at the age of 30, doing what he loved, kayaking in white water on the Upper South Fork of the Smith River in Northern California. He is survived by his wife, Erin Johnson Wilburn, his mother and father, Susie and Herb Wilburn, their families, and countless friends.

Described as “the finest and most true forester of our generation that I have ever met” by one of his colleagues, John was most recently a natural resource conservation officer for the Oregon Department of Forestry. He was known for his kindness, humility and honesty, and being independent and creative, often changing ideas to reality. With family roots in the Appalachian mountain region and formative years spent in southwest Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley, he earned his B.S. in Forestry in 2006 from Virginia Tech. During his school years, he worked in natural resources management at places including Zion National Park in Utah, the US Forest Service Southern Research Station, and the USFS Bonner’s Ferry Ranger District in the Idaho panhandle.

He worked for the Virginia Department of Forestry as an Area Forester before returning to Virginia Tech to pursue more education under a cooperative program between the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation and the US Navy in which he established continuous forest inventory systems and developed management plans for two naval installations in the Chesapeake Bay region. He also studied habitat dynamics and nesting for eagles. He obtained his Master of Science degree in 2012. He was a Wildland Firefighter (S130/190), and a Virginia Certified Prescribed Burn Manager.

Scholarship Fund

In John’s memory, consider a donation to help others explore their spirit of adventure and love for the environment: