If you enjoy using trails in the Dillon Ranger District, it’s likely that you will come across a fellow hiker in an official-looking uniform, sporting a clean-pressed, earth-toned tee, a nametag and friendly smile.
This local ranger patroller isn’t being paid to keep a watch on the forest. The Friends of the Dillon Ranger District ranger patrollers are everyday Summit County residents volunteering their time to give back to the community. Silverthorne resident Thekla Schultz joined FDRD’s ranger patrol program after moving to Summit County a few years ago.
“When I found out about the program, I thought it would be a neat way to explore the different trails and do something useful to contribute to the community,” she said.
In 2014, our 45 returning volunteers and 16 new ranger patrollers will attempt to complete about 300 hikes as a group over the course of the season. Last year, our ranger patrollers completed 281 hikes, patrolled 1,456 miles of trails, contributed 1,400 volunteer hours and came in contact with 5,863 forest visitors. This year, we set a goal for our ranger patrollers to contribute a total of 1,600 volunteer hours. This is equivalent to what two full-time paid rangers would complete during the five-month season.
FDRD program manager Scott Fussell has spent countless hours recruiting volunteers, ordering uniforms and materials, responding to questions and planning various ranger patrol trainings (with a great deal of support from veterans of the program).
Fussell gives our volunteers the resources they need to establish a friendly presence on local public lands, educate forest visitors and collect information that better helps the Dillon Ranger District serve the community.
“Ranger patrollers are our eyes and ears on the trail,” he said. “They go on roughly 300 hikes per year as a group, so they really do see what’s going on and what needs taken care of, such as downed trees or trail repairs. This helps us with long-term planning and goals.”
Public service part of job
Public service is another big part of FDRD’s ranger patrol program. Ranger patrollers are equipped to answer questions from the public to make their user experience more enjoyable. Our ranger patrollers help inform visitors about forest regulations and trail conditions and often answer the question, “Where am I?” Our ranger patrollers have even helped injured guests get the emergency help they need.
In addition to being trained on forest safety and regulations, our ranger patrollers have the opportunity to go on educational hikes led by local experts, covering topics about our mining history, wildflowers, mushrooms, wildlife and GPS techniques.
“We want to give our ranger patrollers as much info as we can to better prepare them for their job,” Fussell said. “They get questions ranging all over the board. The more knowledge we can get into their heads, the more they can relay to forest visitors.”
Shultz has been a ranger patroller for two years. During this time, she’s taken part in a variety of the educational hikes offered to these volunteers.
“It helps me to educate people, and it makes my job more interesting if I can share local history and other information with people who don’t live in the county,” she said.
Dillon Ranger District wildlife biologist Ashley Nettles led an educational hike for FDRD’s ranger patrollers earlier this month as part of FDRD’s training program. She urged volunteers to report anything unusual they observed in the forest regarding wildlife or habitat.
“It could be something really important like a sensitive species that we are monitoring or a track of a rare species that we’ve never observed here before,” Nettles said.
The wildlife biologist urged volunteers to stress to the public that although animals may seem like they aren’t bothered by our presence, we are in their habitat and we need to respect the animals by giving them lots of space to go about their daily routines. Nettles said she appreciates volunteer ranger patroller’s ability to educate the public about important wildlife issues.
“These folks are able to get our message out to visitors about being safe during a wildlife encounter, how to observe wildlife safely and the reasons we ask the public to respect rules, such as dogs on leash and closures during critical wildlife reproductive times,” she said.
Rangers can also clarify information that the public has perhaps assumed or misunderstood about wildlife, Nettles said.
“For instance, a visitor may think that it’s safe to approach a moose for a picture but believe that black bears are the most dangerous animal in the forest,” she said. “Rangers can clear up these kinds of misconceptions.”
Ranger patroller Schultz said she enjoys making a positive impact on the forest by educating forest users and likes the camaraderie she feels participating in the program.
“I get to meet people not only out on the trails but also lots of other volunteers and (FDRD) staff who are dedicated, helpful and friendly,” she said. “It’s given me a real sense of community.”