Living in Summit County can feel like being on a permanent vacation. Locals and visitors alike revel in the High Country environment — the jagged, snow-covered peaks, the vivid blue sky dotted with cottony clouds, the colorful aspen trees and the grassy hillsides painted with patches of wildflowers.
Summit residents live here for the same reasons visitors flock here. Recreation opportunities of all kinds pop up year-round. Whatever your flavor — hiking, biking, fishing, rafting, kayaking — the county offers a little something for everyone.
Visitors come to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and to enjoy their favorite outdoor activities in a “pristine” mountain environment. Their presence, and the economic benefits that come with it, enables many locals to get away with living in their dream destination. But the footprint created by humans in the forests can have negative impacts on the health and sustainability of our mountain environment. Those tasked with caring for local forests have to take both the health of ecosystems and human-driven interests into account.
Balancing multiple, sometimes competing, interests in our forests isn’t always easy. The forest benefits from the pride locals and visitors take in the beautiful mountain environment. Small but mighty local nonprofits count on the manpower and devotion of volunteers to maintain and improve not only local trails but also entire forest ecosystems. We want recreationists to love our forests enough to keep them around for the next generations — not love them to death.
One of the things that stands out about Summit County is our locals’ desire not only to play in the forests in our backyards, but also to care for our favorite places. Stewardship of our public lands and open spaces can range from working to reduce your own impact to seeking out opportunities to reverse impacts that might have taken place decades ago.
“Our public lands are the foundation of our way of life in the Western United States,” said Jessica Evett, the executive director at the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District. “Active stewardship is one of the best ways for people to become knowledgeable about issues facing their public lands, while making a positive impact on the ground.”
Although most of the FDRD’s projects are relatively small in scope, first-time volunteers who come out on outdoor stewardship projects are often amazed at the sense of accomplishment and pride that comes with this type of work.
“Many people are motivated to volunteer because of the pride they already feel in relation to Summit County and the outdoors,” Evett said. “Others may volunteer for other reasons but develop that sense of pride and connection to place through volunteering, having a great day outside and feeling like they’ve just done something that feels good.”
Throughout the summer season, as the volunteer and office manager with the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, I will report about some of the on-the-ground work happening in our forests and provide insight into a variety of forest and recreation topics, including why there’s an art to trail restoration, why willows are a great native plant for watershed re-vegetation, how youth exposure to forests can influence the rest of their lives, and much more.
So stay tuned and get ready to “Meet Your Forest” with the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District.