Volunteers help the National Forest
SUMMIT COUNTY – Visitor numbers and recreational use have skyrocketed on National Forest lands in recent years, but Forest Service budgets have not come close to keeping pace. Increasingly, land managers are relying on volunteers to maintain trails and help with myriad other tasks that keep public lands in reasonably good shape.Several groups, including the Summit Fat Tire Society and the Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness, have been active stewards in the area for years, and a new grassroots group formed this summer could help fill some of the gaps between the two groups.The Friends of the Dillon Ranger District (FDRD) started to jell after local Forest Service leaders Rick Newton and Ken Waugh of the Dillon Ranger District put out the word that they are interested in getting things done, said Kathryn Grohusky, one of the group’s main de facto organizers. At the same time, Grohusky has recently been named the agency’s trails volunteer coordinator, a gig that should dovetail nicely with her volunteer FDRD efforts.”Rick Newton is not interested in waving the we-don’t-have-any-money-flag,” Grohusky said. Instead, the district ranger let it be known that, with some well-coordinated volunteer efforts and some targeted fundraising, a grassroots support group could go a long way toward addressing some of the most pressing needs on federal land in Summit County.The list is long. For example, many trails haven’t seen much in the way of regular maintenance for years, and some fragile streamside areas have been hammered, their natural resources degraded by years of overuse. “The need and the problems have been around for a long time,” Grohusky said. “And the interest in doing something about it has also been there,” she added. But it all came together earlier this year when a group of “strong, diverse” individuals came together as a steering committee of sorts, Grohusky said.Some organizational details are still being worked out and, for now, the group doesn’t want to be swamped with volunteers that it can’t put to work. Still, the group has completed two successful projects this year, with a couple more to come, including a trail-side weed pull and a fire mitigation effort.On a cleanup day at Miner’s Creek, near Frisco, volunteers hauled two full truckloads of trash out of the forest, Grohusky said.Crucial to the group’s long-term success will be the involvement of all key stakeholders. Getting support from the Summit County commissioners is a big part of that, said Currie Craven, who has more than his share of experience coordinating volunteer projects with the Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness.Along with hikers and mountain bikers, Craven said it’s important to bring motorized users to the table at an early stage. “This group has tremendous potential,” said Waugh, the recreation staff officer on the Dillon Ranger District. “Because of our funding, we’re looking for help.””With just some people to do logistics, we can get a lot done. We can do some great things; meet customer expectations and do some education,” he said.”It’s an amazing feeling. It really gives you a sense of pride and ownership,” Craven said earlier this year. “We don’t just build trails. We build a stewardship ethic. People who help take care of the land will always respect it.”That, in turn, can lead to a broader constituency that can advocate for public land stewardship and adequate funding on the political level, he added.For information on Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, contact the Forest Service at (970) 468-5400.Bob Berwyn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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