Thursday, August 25, 2016

Happy 100th Birthday to the National Park Service!

Today (August 25, 2016) the National Park Service is celebrating their 100th birthday! That's 100 years that they have been taking care of our precious and irreplaceable public lands.

The National Park Service (NPS) was established by an act of Congress in 1916 to manage public lands that were assigned to the U.S. Department of the Interior at the time, such as Yellowstone National Park. By 1933 the role of the National Park Service had expanded to make it the primary federal agency responsible for preserving and protecting our country's most valuable natural and cultural resources.

The NPS now manages over 400 sites, including 58 national parks and a number of national seashores, national lake-shores, national rivers, national scenic-trails, national monuments, national memorials, national military parks, and national battlefields.  

The oldest NPS managed site is Yellowstone National Park, first designated as a park by Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. Known for its spectacular geothermal geysers, ancient petrified forests, sparkling waterfalls, and abundance of wildlife, Yellowstone covers over 2 million acres. To celebrate the NPS centennial Yellowstone National Park is hosting "An Evening at the Arch" centennial event to kick off the second century of the National Park Service. Tickets to the event are already sold out but you can watch the event live at (broadcast begins at 6pm Mountain Daylight Time)

The newest NPS managed site is Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, designated as a National Monument just yesterday by President Obama. It encompasses approximately 87,000 acres of Maine including the East Branch of the Penobscot River and a large section of Maine's woods that are rich in biodiversity.

The National Park Service is inviting everyone to celebrate their centennial with them by holding special events across the country and providing free admission to all 412 national parks from August 25 through August 28.

Find out more about each of our parks and what they are doing to celebrate the NPS centennial at the links below:

Happy Birthday to the National Park Service from Wilderness Volunteers!

More information about our National Parks:

National Park Birthday Invitation:

Centennial Events at the NPS:

Volunteer and Give Something Back to our National Parks:

Wilderness Volunteers is partnering with 17 different NPS managed areas in 2016 to help them complete critical projects including trail construction and maintenance, invasive weed removal, archaeological survey, and planting native flora. There are still openings on some of these projects for fall 2016. Find out more about giving something back to our National Parks with Wilderness Volunteers on our project homepage.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Brief Introduction to Animal Track Identification

Have you ever been in the backcountry and run across an interesting animal track that you wish you could identify? With some instruction, a few careful observations and maybe a couple of measurements you can likely identify what animal left the track in question and gain some insight about wildlife in the area you are visiting.

  • Look for tracks in wet and sandy places like stream beds, beaches, or sand dunes. Snow also is a great place to find tracks. 
  • Good quality impressions make it much easier to decipher tracks.
  • Look at gait (an animals manner of walking) clues when you can. An animals gait can help you narrow down the range of possibilities. 
  • Try to pick out identifying characteristics (how many toes, are there claw impressions, etc.) 
  • A flashlight held at an oblique angle can help bring out details in a track.
  • Size can often be a defining feature. 
  • Take along a notepad to sketch tracks and relevant observations/measurements.
  • Animals like bears, skunk, beaver, opossum, badger, raccoon, weasel and otters have five toes on both front and rear feet.
  • Members of both the Felidae (cat) and Canidae (dog) family have four toes on the front and rear feet.
  • Claws are typically visible on prints from members of the Canidae family (wolves, coyotes, foxes, dogs, etc.).
  • Claws are typically not visible on prints from members of the Felidae family (mountain lion, bobcats, lynx, house cats, etc.) due to their retractable claws. 
  • Rodents such as mice, squirrels, prairie dogs, marmots, muskrat, chipmunks and porcupines have four toes on the front and five toes on their hind feet. 
  • Deer, reindeer, elk, antelope, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, wild boar and moose have two toes.
  • Raccoon prints have long toes and resemble tiny human hands/feet.
  • Opossum prints have the front fingers spread very widely and rear print has a distinctive thumb-like toe.
  • Beaver have large webbed hind foot prints.
  • To differentiate black bear tracks from brown bear tracks:  
    • #1 find the lowest point of the outside (largest) toe 
    • #2 find the highest point on the front edge of the palm pad 
    • #3 draw a line through the two points and extend across the track. If more than half of the smallest toe is above the line, the print is from a brown bear. If more than half is below the line, the print is from a black bear. 
  • Bird tracks can be classified as follows:
    • Anisodactyl tracks/ perching birds: 3 toes pointing forward and one long toe pointing backward. (eagles, ravens, hawks, doves, vultures, herons, etc.)
    • Game bird/ ground birds: 3 toes pointing forward with short/absent toe pointing backward. (turkey, quail, pheasant, ptarmigan, partridge, coots, cranes, grouse, etc.)
    • Palmate tracks/ water birds: 3 webbed toes (ducks, geese, gulls, terns, etc)
    • Totipalmate tracks/ ocean birds: 4 webbed toes (pelicans, gannets, boobies, cormorants, etc.)
    • Zygodactyl tracks: 2 toes pointing forward & 2 toes pointing backward (woodpeckers, roadrunners, parrots, owls, osprey, etc.) 
click image for larger view
(please note tracks are not to scale)

Here are a few tracks that you can use to test your track identification skills (scroll down for the answers):








Happy tracking!

Some great resources for more tracking info:

#1 mountain lion
#2 black bear
#3 turkey
#4 brown bear
#5 moose
#6 otter
#7 wolf

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Lightning Storm Safety

A recent death of an Arizona teen from a lightning strike in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness Area has brought to mind the importance of proper practices during lightning storms. Each year over 20 million strikes hit the ground accounting for nearly 70 deaths per year. While many of us know the correct behavior and techniques during lightning, a safety refresher in this time of increasing summer storms could be the difference between panic and action. Here are the top three things to remember if caught in a lightning storm.  

Image Source
1. Count the Distance

In order to gauge the distance you are from a storm, count the seconds between seeing a flash and hearing thunder. Sound travels at 1.6km every 5 seconds. If the flash-bang is 30 seconds or less, avoid danger places or go to a safe place until the storm has passed. If the flash-bang is 5 seconds or less, the storm is less than 2 miles from you and you should immediately find cover and assume lighting position.

2. Dangerous Locations
LOTS of dangerous locations here...

Areas to avoid if a lightning is in your area include:

  • Summits, ridge tops, or exposed locations like meadows or open slopes.
  • Near water of any kind including rivers, lakes, and even indoor plumbing.
  • Near tall objects like trees or rock spires.
  • Inside shallow caves or under rock overhangs. 
  • Near any conductive objects, like metal tools or metal pack frames.

Steering clear of these areas will better you odds of avoiding lightning strikes.

Image Source
3. Positions of Safety

Proper practices in a lightning storm include:

  • Disperse your party 20 to 40ft apart.
  • Seek shelter in a stand of uniform height trees, in a crevice or ravine, or deep in a cave.
  • Assume lightning position by squatting on a insulating pad with only your forefoot touching the pad and your heels together. Cover your ears with your palms while tucking your head down. See diagram for reference. 

If you practice these techniques, coupled with adequate preparation and attention to signs of inclement weather, you could reduce the amount or risk posed to you by lightning storms. Stay safe in storms this summer, and enjoy time in the wild!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Equipment Spotlight: Tenacious Tape Gear Patches

A New Approach to Gear Repair:

The warmth, light weight and compactability of  down jackets make them a backpacker's ace in the hole but one down side has always been their susceptibility small rips or tears. Left unattended all that warm down escapes pretty quickly through fairly small rips or tears.

Repairing a hole in the past has typically involved unsightly repair patches/duct tape or and expensive trip to a gear repair shop. The folks over at McNett have a new solution: Tenacious Tape Gear Repair Patches. Application is easy: just peel off the backing and stick to the gear needing repair. The adhesive is advertised to stay put "rain, snow, or shine" on "outerwear, outdoor gear, water bottles, luggage and more".

The patches come in a variety of fun decorative shapes & sizes to cover just about any size tear. They are also available in black, color, and reflective tape.

After recently finding a sizable rip in the back of my down jacket I decided to give these gear patches a shot. I picked up a camping set in black at a local outdoor store for around $10.

The precut tree shape seemed about the right size for the tear- it peeled off the backing easily & seemed to adhere to the jacket material pretty well. It helped to have a flat surface behind the jacket to get the patch on without any wrinkles or flaps. The matte black color of the patch made it not terribly noticeable against the black of my jacket.

After three months of regular wear, two weeks in the backcountry and one wash the patch is still in place and looks good. Having previously used duct tape, glossy gear repair tape, and a needle and thread to repair jackets while on service projects I really like the fun shapes and simplicity of these patches!  

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

If it's natural/biodegradable is it still litter?

While we all recognize the need to pack out what we pack in to our wilderness areas, what about biodegradable or natural trash like banana peels, sunflower seed shells, peach pits, orange peels, pistachio shells, and apple cores? Leave-No-Trace principles extend well past your granola-bar wrapper.

Landscape with biodegradable trash. 
Landscape free of biodegradable trash! 
Judging by the amount of "natural" biodegradable bits collected on a recent day hike on Haleakala, HI there is still generally some confusion on the issue.

Just because something is biodegradable that doesn't mean that it is native to the environment you are in. Unless you are standing under an apple tree eating an apple, in a field of sunflowers spitting out sunflower shells, or next to a banana tree dropping a banana peel, these items likely don't belong in the ecosystem you are visiting. They are still trash and need to be packed out with the rest of your trash for the following reasons:

1) Biodegradable trash is harmful to wildlife. Animals may eat it and become sick or start looking for more along trails and campsites. This can lead to negative encounters for both animals and people.

2) Seeds may grow introducing non-native vegetation to the area.

3) While they may be "biodegradable" depending on the area that could still take years to break down.

4) If everyone left their orange peels, apple cores, and pistachio shells it wouldn't take long before you'd see them everywhere.

Remember to respect your surrounding environment by doing your best to truly leave no trace of your visit. If you do encounter some trash, biodegradable or otherwise, please pack it out with you. (You could even use it to make some fun trash art like this.) Put your trash in the trash and help keep our public lands wild!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Celebrates 20 Years!

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) is celebrating their 20th anniversary in 2016! Wilderness Volunteers has been working with Grand Staircase-Escalante for 18 of those years doing a variety of projects, from backcountry restoration to eradication of invasives to trail maintenance. One of the early highlights recalled by project leaders was Sage Sorenson playing a flute for participants in the Gulch during a lunch break.

Designated as a National Monument in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, the Grand Staircase-Escalante is the largest National Monument in the United States spanning nearly 1.9 million acres. It is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

From its spectacular Grand Staircase of cliffs and terraces, across the rugged Kaiparowits Plateau, to the wonders of the Escalante River canyons, the Monument's vast landscape offers unparalleled opportunities for scientists and visitors alike to experience the effects of millions of years of geological history. Reaching from the town of Escalante at the northeast end to Kanab in the southwest, the monument covers an area roughly the size of Delaware and was the last region in America to be explored.

Planned events include a 20th birthday party with cake and lemonade, an Open House, an Artists in Residence Veterans Salute, a art exhibition, the first annual Lower Calf Creek Falls hike, and a Science Forum covering topics such as Paleontology, Geology, Archaeology, Botany, Soils and Hydrology, and Recreation/Social Science.

Read more about events in the BLM's event announcement.

You can also celebrate GSENM's 20th year with Wilderness Volunteers on our fall service project October 2-8th. Help remove invasive Russian Olive and Tamarisk from tributaries of the Escalante River and protect the beautiful and delicate riparian areas of the Grand Staircase-Escalante.

The non-native olive trees were originally planted to prevent erosion and stabilize soil but the trees have spread and in Utah they have colonized entire riverways, crowding out native vegetation, lowering the temperatures of the Escalante River, and making the riverway impassable to wildlife and hikers alike.

Project participants will likely car camp in a remote setting (or a designated campground close to the project area) and hike to the project site each day.

You can find out more about the project and apply to volunteer on it here.

Have you done a WV project in the Grand Staircase-Escalante? 
Do you have a favorite hike in the GSENM? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Lamzac Lounge Chairs

If you are wishing your camp chair was a little more comfortable you might want to check out the new Lamzac Hangout chair.
Made from ripstop nylon they set up in just a few seconds. Take down is just as easy and the sacks are designed to fold up compactly. A cross between a beanbag chair, a hammock and a air mattress they are designed to hold up to 440 pounds so you can share your newfound comfort with a friend or two.

At 2.6 pounds the chair is a bit on the heavy side for backpacking trips where weight is a consideration but for car camping it could be a great addition. The ripstop nylon construction is resistant to rips and tears but probably shouldn't be used near campfires as an errant ember could easily deflate your chair and patching the hole could be tricky.

The chair is being sold soon by the Dutch company Fatboy USA. They will come in six different colors; you can find out more about them here.

Do you have one? Have you field tested it? Please let us know what you thought in the comments below.