Meet Jim Kern

 


At the age of 11, while playing with friends in the woods near his home, Kern saw an unusual and beautiful bird he had not seen before. With the help of his elementary school principal, he identified the bird as a rose-breasted grosbeak. The event launched a lifetime interest in nature and the outdoors. By age 15 Kern had achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, the first evidence that he was serious about his outdoor pursuits.

A moment of truth came in 1956 when Yale’s yearbook committee asked in a form: “Future occupation?” Although full of trepidation over what his parents might say, he listed: “Film and collect wild animals around the world.” In 1958 he flew to Indonesia to begin a career of wildlife photography by traveling through the Malay Archipelago to film the Komodo dragon. Three years later Kern launched his lifelong passion of hiking and backpacking with a difficult hike from Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Fontana Dam.

His quests for wildlife have also taken him to Ujung Kulon in Java, Baffin Island, Canada; Kenya and Rwanda; the Parks of India; Luzon in the Philippines; Kalimantan in Indonesia; the Ryukyu Islands in Japan and many other places closer to home. His pictures have appeared in major magazines and books. He has written for Audubon, Backpacker, National Geographic and others. He has lectured on wildlife and conservation subjects throughout Florida since the late ’60s. As a naturalist, he published a scientific paper in Zoologica: “Observations on the Habits of the Proboscis Monkey, Nasalis larvatus (wurmb), Made in the Brunei Bay Area, Borneo.” The year 2008 was his 50th anniversary as a wildlife photographer and he celebrated the event by publishing a coffee table book entitled The Wildlife Art & Adventures of Jim Kern Photographer.

Kern’s interest in hiking grew. In 1966, he founded the Florida Trail and the Florida Trail Association. In 1976, he co-founded the American Hiking Society with Bill Kemsley, founding editor and publisher of Backpacker Magazine, and Paul Pritchard, then president of the Appalachian Trail Conference. In 1990, he founded Big City Mountaineers. He was the president of the Florida Trail Association for its first 12 years, president of the American Hiking Society for its first nine years and president and board chairman of Big City Mountaineers for its first six years.

Kern also solo-sailed Wanderoo II, a 31’ Pacific Seacraft, to Bermuda. See Sail magazine, October 2007.

Most recently, Kern was the executive producer of the documentary Saving Face, completed in 2008. The film was awarded world premier status at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival in October 2008. It’s the story of Kern’s wayward son Matt, who got into serious trouble with the law and spent 12 years in prison by the time he was 27. In 2003 Matt wrote and his father published FACE, the story of Matt’s life up to and including his clemency, granted by Governor Lawton Chiles. Currently he is in talks with a film production company about doing a feature film about Matt.

The year 2011 was his 50th year as a hiker and backpacker. In 2003 he began accumulating accounts of his best hikes throughout the country and around the world. By 2007, he decided to incorporate the best hiking photographs into a second coffee table book, Trail Reflections, 50 Years of Hiking and Backpacking. It is a companion volume to his book on wildlife photography mentioned above. (Same dimensions, same paper, same font.) The hiking adventures he recounts range from Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo to Shimshal in northern Pakistan, to Torres del Paine in Tierra del Fuego to the Milford Track on South Island in New Zealand. There is a lot of early history, too, about the organizations mentioned above.

Jim Kern grew up in Leonia, New Jersey. He attended Andover and Yale and moved to Florida in 1958. Kern has been a real estate broker since 1960, specializing in the brokerage of vacant land. By 1969 he was also serving as trustee for land purchases. In the 1980s he increased his responsibilities by serving as general partner in buying and selling land through limited partnerships.  Jim now resides in St. Augustine, Florida and Highlands, North Carolina.