Volunteers to patrol WRNF backcountry this summer
Are you sure you want to wear those flip flops and cut all the switchbacks on your hike to Hanging Lake? Are you certain using a stuff sack full of oatmeal and chili powder as a pillow is a good idea when you’re camping below the Maroon Bells? Those are just a few questions the unprepared might hear from an army of volunteer rangers the White River National Forest is seeking to recruit this summer to chat up trail trekkers, take stock of human impacts on the backcountry and to encourage the unwise from doing something they may regret. With the help of the Forest Conservancy, the WRNF is looking for some folks to don Forest Service uniforms to hike backcountry trails and hang out at trailheads mostly on the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District and at Hanging Lake, providing a Forest Service presence in the backcountry. “We just walk around and talk to people face to face,” said Marcia Johnson, Forest Conservancy executive director. “Volunteer rangers basically patrol the trail and educate the visitors along the trail about outdoor ethics, Leave No Trace, forest rules and regulations. We’re not policemen, we’re educators.”This will be the second summer volunteers have patrolled the Hanging Lake Trail, and the fourth summer they have patrolled other areas in the WRNF. Last summer, the conservancy, which was formed in 2001 to protect and preserve the WRNF, had 40 active volunteers patrolling 30 of the 45 trails on the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, Johnson said.
“The big goal is to have people on every trail of the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District every day of the summer,” she said. Volunteers may one day patrol the Flat Tops as well. Some volunteers will be stationed only at trailheads for a few hours a week. Others will range deep into the wilderness, spending nights in the woods educating people about wilderness safety. “Once they’ve been educated, it totally changes their behavior,” Johnson said of the hikers. The impetus for the project was simply the astronomically high amount of use the White River National Forest receives, making it one of the top 10 most heavily used national forests in the nation during the summer. The Forest Service estimates that the Hanging Lake Trail sees 150,000 hikers between Memorial Day and Labor Day annually, while the trails beneath the Maroon Bells receive about as many, said Steve Carcaterra, WRNF partnership coordinator. While serving as “our eyes and ears on the trail,” volunteers will also survey for noxious weeds, count the people they encounter on the trail and at trailheads, answer hikers’ questions, monitor for trashed backcountry campsites, and educate visitors about fragile ecosystems, he said. Volunteers don’t have to be athletic or even have much time for volunteering. The conservancy will hone volunteers’ duties to their schedules and abilities, and will allow them to choose which trails they want to patrol.
For more information, or to volunteer, call the Forest Conservancy at (970) 963-8071 or log onto http://www.forestconservancy.com. Make sure to fluff the grass after you pack up your tent in the wilderness because volunteers will be patrolling the White River National Forest educating hikers about Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics. Here’s how to make sure only the bears know you were in the woods on your next backcountry adventure:Plan ahead and prepareTravel and camp on durable surfacesDispose of waste properlyLeave what you find
Minimize campfire impactsRespect wildlifeBe considerate of other visitorsTo VolunteerFor more information, or to volunteer, call the Forest Conservancy at (970) 963-8071 or log onto http://www.forestconservancy.com.
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.