Helping Hands: Promoting stewardship of the land
It all started in 1993 after John Fayhee, at the time a Summit Daily editor, went backpacking with his wife and a few wilderness rangers through the Eagles Nest Wilderness. In an article following the experience, he talked about “some of the really unfortunate state of some of the bridges, the poor signage, and the fact that they had a very limited budget to maintain the whole county,” said Currie Craven, president of Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness. So Fayhee put out a call to action: He asked residents to help start an organization providing volunteer trail work and to help raise money for the U.S. Forest Service. About a week later, a meeting was held at the Silverthorne Library. Craven, who was there, said about 50 people were in attendance. Soon after, Friends of the Eagles Nest was an established nonprofit. “(The mountains are) a big reason a lot of people live here, obviously,” Craven said. “It’s absolutely spectacular.”The group raises money for materials and provide services to help the Dillon and the Holy Cross ranger districts of the White River National Forest maintain the Eagles Nest, Holy Cross and Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness areas. They try to do a project once a month. In both July and August, volunteers built a bridge over a bog on the Meadow Creek trail. In October, they plan on hiking to Willow Lakes to repair trails.Because the organization is all-volunteer, Craven said it’s harder to leverage volunteerism for more projects, unlike Friends of the Dillon Ranger District – Craven is also a board member and founder – which has a paid staff to do so. When more help is needed beyond what the nonprofit can provide with volunteers, like major erosion work and other labor-intensive projects, Craven said the group writes grants to get support. Friends of the Eagles Nest also runs a volunteer wilderness rangers program, in which people help survey the amount of wilderness users, and make sure dogs are on leashes so they don’t harass wildlife.”Social monitoring is an important aspect of implementing forest plans,” Craven said. “Forest Service need to understand how many people are using the resource.” Another group initiative: The implementation of a noxious weed treatment program with the Forest Service using “appropriate and approved pesticides.””One of the demonstrated biological threats to the ecosystem is the spread of noxious and invasive weeds,” Craven said. As a result of these actions, the Forest Service has noticed a reduction in destructive species and an increased amount of dogs on leashes.”That message is getting picked up and acted on,” Craven said. “Generally encouraging public land stewardship, I think, has been very successful.”
The group, comprised of about 150 members, families and businesses, accomplishes its mission of maintaining the wildernesses through four main focus areas, which Craven since they’ve held since inception: education, outreach, advocacy and stewardship. Through education, Craven said, the group helps people understand concepts like minimum impact and leave-no-trace techniques, along with the value of the wilderness for both recreational and biological purposes. Among other things, FENW has funded and installed trailhead signs about the area and regulations, along with funding a Forest Service wilderness ranger to patrol during hunting season.The group also helps other organizations that believe in public land stewardship get started. They have provided outreach assistance to Friends of Dillon Ranger District, the Summit Fat Tire Society and Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, among others. Through advocacy, Craven said the nonprofit encourages the public to help take care of its resources, as well as looking at wilderness issues. “It might be important to take a position,” Craven said, like they did for the White River National Forest Plan revision process. They helped organize a forest plan revision forum in Summit County, and support Hidden Gems, an organization promoting additional wilderness areas in the White River National Forest. Craven said the group has stayed away from the Breckenridge Peak 6 issue because it’s not directly adjacent to their wilderness. An important aspect of their advocacy role, Craven said, is the group’s understanding and support of multiple use where allowed. People sometimes view wilderness advocates as one-sided, he said, but collaborating with different groups is important. Craven said the group was one of the first to a state trails grant, primarily because friends from the Fat Tire Society – a community of mountain bikers dedicated to trails, access and advocacy – wrote a letter of recommendation. “Even through they couldn’t legally ride their bikes in our wilderness, a lot of them like to hike,” Craven said. Of course, Friends of the Eagles Nest also encourages active stewardship of the land, especially of those who use public areas to recreate regularly.
John Taylor has been a member of the organization since 2004. He joined because he has always liked hiking and the outdoors, and likes having the opportunity to give back. He has been involved in a lot of the trail work, and going after the noxious weeds. “I feel fortunate to be a part of an organization of that stature, with people who want to be involved, and want to give back,” he said. Craven said he gets a strong sense of being a steward, and helping to encourage an understanding of “where we live, how we live.” Craven cites a quote from Theodore Roosevelt about why conservation and responsible use should be encouraged: for generations “unborn within the womb of time.”
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