Wilderness volunteers are wanted | SummitDaily.com

Wilderness volunteers are wanted

Summit Daily file photo/Brad Odekirk

SUMMIT COUNTY In recent years, the important task of providing stewardship for local wilderness has increasingly fallen on volunteer groups, as U.S. Forest Service resources dwindle. This summer, for example, the agency will only have two official wilderness rangers to patrol tens of thousands of acres in the Eagles Nest and Ptarmigan Peak wilderness areas, not nearly enough to cover all the territory on a regular basis.To back up those meager government resources, local wilderness advocates banded together to form the Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness (FENW) 12 years ago. The group is going stronger than ever and will expand its roster of volunteers this summer to beef up its own wilderness stewardship program. Volunteer applications are due May 12, with a training session scheduled June 10, said volunteer coordinator Maryann Gaug.Gaug said the friends group focuses specifically on designated wilderness those areas set aside by Congress to be preserved in an untrammeled state for their natural resource and recreational values. That differentiates the group from the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, which also supports the Forest Service with various service projects outside the wilderness.

Gaug said the group hopes to add about 10 or 15 people this year to help conduct public outreach and education. Funding to administer the volunteer program comes primarily from the Summit Foundation, several local towns, the Arapahoe Basin environmental employee fund and the National Forest Foundation.It’s all about protecting the natural conditions and the wilderness characteristics of the High Country preserves, Gaug said, explaining that wilderness areas serve as monitors for the overall health of Summit County’s environment, with stringent requirements to maintain pristine water and air quality. Preserving wilderness also ensures the integrity of habitat for plants and animals, providing reservoirs of biodiversity in an increasingly developed and fragmented landscape.But she also acknowledges that there are less tangible spiritual, cultural, social and aesthetic values associated with wilderness. The areas serve as nearby getaway destinations for people seeking to escape the hustle of daily life.Gaug is hard-pressed to pick her own favorite wilderness spot, but the high alpine tundra of the Ptarmigan Peak area is always a strong pull.

“It’s wonderful tundra. And in July, all the teeny wildflowers bloom. It’s amazing to see that in such a harsh environment,” she says.The group’s backcountry stewards help with educating the public about those values, she explained. A big part of that is to spread the Leave No Trace ethic among wilderness visitors.Volunteers will also conduct field monitoring to measure the condition of trails and popular wilderness camping spots. In the long run, that information will be used by the Forest Service to develop restoration plans where needed, and to manage use in a way that limits impacts, Gaug explained.Volunteers are expected to commit to at least four days during the summer hiking season to make the day-long training session worthwhile. The program is open to locals and Front Range residents.

“It all goes back to having this beautiful backyard and trying to keep it that way,” Gaug concluded. For more information, call Gaug at (970) 468-6219, or send her an email at [ mailto:megaug@earthlink.net ]megaug@earthlink.net. Volunteer applications and more info about the group’s stewardship program and other projects is also online at [ http://www.fenw.org/ ]http://www.fenw.org.

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