Sunday, October 4, 2020

As Wilderness Areas Attract More People, Volunteer Rangers Hit The Trail - Full Article


When Joyce Fabre saw how many cars were parked at the Iron Creek Trailhead when she pulled in, she knew it would be a busy day. It was a warm, late summer morning, and her destination – Sawtooth Lake – is one of the most popular day hikes in Central Idaho. Cars were spilling out of the parking lot and lined the dirt road for a quarter mile. Fabre tightened her boot laces and pulled her backpack onto her shoulders. Before she could get going, her work began: She approached two men as they printed their name on a wilderness permit at the trailhead.

"Thanks for filling that out," Fabre said. She introduced herself as a wilderness stewardship volunteer with the Idaho Conservation League. "You going to be out there for a few days?" she asked, pointing to their heavy backpacks. The men were chatty and excited, telling Fabre about their fishing plans. Fabre reminded them that no campfires are allowed at the lake, wished them a great trip, and then they started up the trail.

Sawtooth Lake is a place that many describe as "loved to death." Visitors are awe-struck by the unusually large, deep blue alpine lake set against a spectacular backdrop of granite peaks. Striking in another way are the impacts of thousands of hikers and backpackers who visit each summer – piles of unburied human waste that dot the forest floor surrounding popular campsites, illegal campfire rings, trampled alpine plants where hikers wandered off trail.

But that's exactly why Fabre is here – to help educate hikers about Leave No Trace principles, and hopefully impart the sense of stewardship that she has for this place.

"I'm not here for enforcement. I'm just here to educate people and be an ambassador." "We want to keep it this way for future generations," Fabre told me. "We want to keep it this way for other hikers who are here today. They don't want to see the scraps from my lunch. And they don't want to see the pile of poop under a rock. As volunteers, I think that might be where we can have effect and credibility is to help people understand why they came here in the first place."

Fabre's one of about 40 volunteer wilderness stewards in a program run by the Idaho Conservation League in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service. Volunteer wilderness stewardship programs are on the rise as budget and staffing levels drop and pressure on the landscape only grows...

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