Like many Summit County residents, Bob Noonan goes all out for the outdoors. He takes full advantage of local trail systems by mountain biking and hiking in the summertime and cross-country skiing in winter.
But Noonan doesn’t just use the trails, he also plays a part in taking care of them. The dedicated Friends of the Dillon Ranger District volunteer was one of 1,110 volunteers who contributed to trail projects on Summit County forestland this year.
Together, these volunteers logged 7,164 hours.
“I love the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District. They do such a wide variety of things,” said Noonan, who was recently named the organization’s volunteer of the year.
“Most of my work has been on trails and maintenance, but I see FDRD up on the ski areas with the snow ranger programs in the winter and when I hike I run into their volunteer rangers helping people on the trails,” he said. “They do a tremendous job expanding the reach of the Forest Service.”
FDRD works closely with the U.S. Forest Service to plan and carry out a variety of projects on federal land.
This year, the small but mighty nonprofit organization — employing only two full-time staff members and a handful of seasonal workers — organized 48 volunteer projects with a variety of partners. It also held 19 educational programs and oversaw five weeks of trail projects with the youth corps.
“Year after year, even if we talk about cutting back, we still somehow manage to pull off a huge season and our numbers, our projects and our impact continues to grow,” said Sarah Slaton, FDRD’s program manager.
Early in the season, the nonprofit welcomed a new executive director. Bob Cook, who came to Summit County from the Front Range in June, said he’s noticed a strong dedication and land ownership exemplified by locals.
“The people of Summit County have a sense of ownership about their forest that is unique in my experience,” Cook said. “They know they live in a beautiful place and they have a sense of taking care of it.”
Looking back over the 2013 summer season, FDRD project organizers said a few highlights stand out. One occurred just recently, Slaton said. The 23rd annual Vail Resorts Echo project attracted 239 volunteers in a single day.
Throughout the day, volunteers realigned 1,900 feet of new trails along the Frisco perimeter trail, and installed dozens of directional signs for trail users.
“I’m not sure we can ever pull something off like that again,” Slaton said.
A small corps of volunteers also made a big impact on Summit County trails, dedicating a big portion of their summer to a major trail project at McCullough Gulch.
The Forest Service and the FDRD were able to use grant money from the Ski Conservation Fund to hire a nine-person Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crew to bring this popular trail up to snuff. The college-age employees spent five weeks camping and working on the site, hauling logs and rocks and performing technical trail work and hard labor.
They alone contributed 2,279 volunteer hours, Slaton said.
“I would encourage anyone who loves that trail to get out there before the snow starts sticking and see the work that’s been done out there because it is just phenomenal,” he said.
Another important project hosted by FDRD is the ranger patrol program.
Volunteer ranger patrollers are the face of the Forest Service to thousands of hikers, bikers and other recreationists who play in Summit County every year. This year the program was the most successful it’s ever been.
“Every year I challenge my patrollers to get in as much volunteering as they can,” Slaton said.
This year, volunteers went above and beyond the call of duty — contributing more than 1,400 hours of combined volunteer time. This is the most time ever recorded by volunteer rangers in a single season, Slaton said.
FDRD staffers said they are working to diversify the volunteers they attract by incorporating more youth programs into their repertoire.
“We want to be able to get more young people involved,” Cook said.
A week-long youth stewardship program held in partnership with SOS Outreach this summer is a great example of a program they want to replicate. About a dozen children under age 14 contributed to a range of volunteer projects from trail work and pulling weeds to playing in the creek looking at macro invertebrates, Slaton said.
“That was really cool to see, and we hope to continue doing programs like that,” she said. “We think it’s vital that kids get involved because they are the future stewards of our forests.”
Slaton said she will be wrapping up her work with the organization in November, moving on to pursue her education outside of Summit County. The organization will be looking for a new program manager to take over.
“Sarah has a benchmark for the organization and will be hard to replace,” said Cook.
A full job description for the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District program manager position can be found on the organization’s website at www.fdrd.org.