Monday, December 01, 2014

Another Year in the Books!

Wilderness Volunteers wrapped up the 2014 season just before Thanksgiving with the Saguaro National Park service trip in southern Arizona. This was the latest trip that we've fielded, but it was a perfect time with great weather and we plan to do it again in 2015.

Thanks to everyone who participated in a project this year. We collectively maintained and repaired more than 106 miles of trail, built 3 miles of new trail, created more than 490 waterbars, cleaned 219 existing waterbars, placed 105 checkdams, removed 652 trees from trails, moved 97 tons of rocks, removed two and one/half miles of trail, 60 illegal fire rings, and 235 illegal campsites. We also maintained/improved 68 campsites, created 8 new campsites, took out 1/4 mile of closed road, removed 99,000 invasive weeds and planted 621 native plants. This list of work done in 2014 isn't complete - reports are still being collected for the last few projects.

We did all of this on public land in cooperation with some wonderful agency personnel who supervised and supported our groups across the country. We're especially thankful for our great volunteer leaders who give so much time to planning and making sure that the projects are successful, to mentor new leaders, to keep everyone safe in the field, to cook all those meals, and to be the face of Wilderness Volunteers to the world -- they are truly the heart of our organization.

We are thankful for our partners and sponsors who make the program possible, especially the National Forest Foundation who supports our work in national forests with matching grants, and to Keen for awarding us a Keen Effect grant. They make much of this work happen!

While we love to take stock of what we've accomplished, there isn't much time to look back as it's time to leap ahead into next year's projects. We are finishing the planning for 2015 and will post the summer and fall projects later this week. Stay tuned! Let's do it again!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Continental Divide Trail

Wilderness Volunteers recently did a week of work on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) near Apache Creek, NM, in cooperation with the Glenwood Ranger District of the Gila National Forest. We were building new trail through a section of the forest that is closed to this activity for all but a few months each year due to proximity to Mexican spotted owl habitat. It was hard work but very rewarding to see the new trail come together.

The CDT spans five states and travels 3100 miles along the spine of the country. It is a combination of dedicated trails and backcountry roads and is considered 70% finished. The Gila Forest is building trail to take it off the forest service roads which will improve the experience for hikers using it.

Standing from left: Paul, Cloudwalker, Don, Debbie, Annette,
Josh, Chris. Seated: Paul, Sarah, Liz, Katy, Bill

One evening we were eating dinner when we spied a hiker on the trail, walking south at a high rate of speed. We asked him to join us and didn't have to worry about what to do with leftovers that night. His trail name was Cloudwalker, and the CDT was his third through-hike as he'd already completed the Appalachian (AT) and Pacific Crest( PCT) trails, in fact, he hiked the AT (2,200 miles) just before he started on the CDT!

He was full of enthusiasm, and it was great to meet an actual through-hiker while we were working on the trail. When we went back to work the next day, we could see visions of these robust characters passing through on the trail we were creating.
Before and After -- a trail is born                     photos by Paul Walski
Wilderness Volunteers will offer this trip again in 2015 on June 7 - 13th. Spend a week on the Continental Divide and help us on this legendary trail!

Experience the trail we completed here:

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Wilderness Volunteers Enjoy Long Commute by Gillian Grant

Gillian Grant, a participant on the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness project we did with the LaCroix Ranger District in August, wrote a post for her employer's blog about the experience. It finally went live this week and can be seen at this link with the title Wilderness Volunteers Enjoy Long Commute.

Sandy Stroo & Gillian Grant
Gillian works at the University of North Texas and the piece was posted to the Community Engagement blog. It was edited (quite severely) from her original piece which is posted here:

Wilderness Volunteer trip to the Boundary Waters, August 2014

Imagine escaping that tedious crawl through repairs on Interstate-35 and replacing your commute with a quiet canoe ride on pristine, mirrored water floating by lily pads and wild rice with the sound of loons and only your paddle gently striking water. This was our typical 2 hour and 15 minute commute to work, and it was pure joy.

A couple of UNT IELI (Intensive English Language Institute) Faculty decided to spend some of their summer break getting closer to nature through the Wilderness Volunteers in a week long volunteer service trip to do some much-needed and much appreciated volunteer work for the forest service.

Gillian at work
The daily commute was from our campsite on an island in Shell Lake in the Superior National Forest in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area that separates the USA from Canada in far NE Minnesota.   The commute involved nearly an hour of hiking in a lush green forest where the Sioux- Hustler hiking trail traverses some dense,  wonderful birch and pine trees. Part of the trail is on what seems to be a spongy bouncy tundra like springy carpet. This Texan was surprised to see the enormous number of trees felled by storms in various states of decomposition. Much of the area has glacially smoothed boulders a foot or two below the surface, so try as the trees do to anchor themselves, eventually the windstorms win and take down tall trees to expose horizontally massive root systems. Also on the daily commute was the wonderful peaceful, quiet canoe trip through lily pads, lotus, wild rice, and other marine based flora. The multiple portages which entailed carrying the canoe either by yourself over your shoulders or with your partner were a physical test, and the rocks in the water were a navigational challenge. Totally engaging and invigorating.

Sandy and Gillian at a portage
Sandy Stroo (retired in August from IELI faculty at UNT after 18 years of service) and I were on a week long service trip doing trail maintenance on the Sioux –Hustler hiking trail with Wilderness Volunteers, a nonprofit outfit that was started by a couple of dedicated Sierra Club members 18 years ago who thought the Sierra Club volunteer trips  had become too expensive. Wilderness Volunteers is based in Flagstaff, Arizona, and they run week long trips with 6-10 volunteer participants, in addition to 2 volunteer certified leaders, to clean up national and state parks and forest service land, choosing projects pitched to them by rangers all over the country. This year there were more than 60 trips. Sandy has done 3, and she inspired other IELI Faculty; I have done 5 trips, Donna Obenda did one and so did Sally Kloppe (currently on assignment for IELI and UNT teaching at Kansai Gaidai in Japan).  In total, we IELI teachers have used time off in the summer (without pay) to participate in 10 WV trips in Colorado, Montana, California, Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii, and Minnesota. There is a small cost to participate ($300), which covers all food, beverages, and associated park costs. If selected for a trip, participants provide their own basic gear (tent, backpack, hiking boots, sleeping bag, thermarest, etc) and pay for their own transportation.

On the water
On our trip to the Boundary Waters in August, there were 8 participants (including a mother-daughter leader team) and we worked with small tools called “silky saws” and a big old timey 2 person cross cut saw. Our team cut and cleared about 200 trees on the Sioux- Hustler hiking trail. It had been years since the trail had seen maintenance. Like most of our parks in America, they are vastly understaffed and depend on volunteer groups like the WV to keep trails open. In fact, there are 2 rangers assigned to maintain the trails in a half million acres at this park.  As a consequence, ranger stations depend on volunteer groups like the WV to keep trails open.

If you like starry nights, frogs, loon cries, making new friends with people who love nature, and a great commute to work, you will love Wilderness Volunteers.
For more information, go to the WV website
- Gillian Grant

Sunday, September 14, 2014

50 Years of Wilderness

"If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it."
                   — President Lyndon Baines Johnson, signing the Wilderness Act of 1964 into law.

Elizabeth Kolbert, an environmental writer, says in the current National Geographic magazine: "Some 30 proposed wilderness areas now await approval from a gridlocked Congress. None of the proposals would have made it even that far without broad local support. There would be no better way to celebrate the Wilderness Act's golden anniversary than for Washington to approve them."

Read her article 50 Years of Wilderness here.

Please take the time to write your Congressional members and ask them for protection now before they are degraded by competing uses.

Let us hear from you -- what does Wilderness mean to you?

National Wilderness Month

President Obama has declared September National Wilderness Month, and in 2014, we also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of The Wilderness Act. In his proclamation
President Obama called on Americans to “reflect on our rich tradition of stewardship, which has preserved the wild and scenic places we enjoy today, and renew our commitment to advancing our country’s legacy of conservation in our own time.”

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, MN
Read the proclamation here.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Rethinking the Wild

In a recent NYTimes editorial, Christopher Solomon states that the Wilderness Act, at 50 years, is facing a midlife crisis. Solomon cites some environmentalists that believe human intervention may be required in order to save or restore the original wilderness qualities in many of our wilderness areas.
Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness

Due to climate change, areas like Yosemite's Tuolumne Meadows is drying out and being replaced by lodgepole pine forest. Should the Park Service keep the meadow intact by cutting these trees and irrigating the meadow? Sequoia and Joshua Tree national parks are considering interventions to help these titular species survive rising temperatures and drought, either relocating trees or irrigating groves. In Bandelier National Monument, the Park Service has already stepped in to remove the increasing pinon-juniper forest to stave off erosion of thousands of archaeological sites and restore the grassland character of the area.

It's an interesting question -- is Wilderness truly wild? Is any place on the planet not shaped by human impact? Can we really experience land "untrammeled by man?" Grazing is still an allowed use of Wilderness, and the impacts of over-grazing are evident everywhere in the American west (compacted soils, cutbanks, disappearance of native grasses and other species, and the invasion of nonnatives). Popular areas are overrun by recreationalists, like the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness where hundreds of people and their dogs pound the trails everyday.

What do you think? Is Wilderness worth keeping? Do we relax the rules to allow more intervention by land agencies or contracted concessions? Is it time to rewrite the Wilderness Act?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Wear Sunscreen!

Here at Wilderness Volunteers, we all spend a lot of time outside. Photographer Thomas Leveritt filmed people under UV light, and the results are amazing. This video drives home why we should be wearing sunscreen:

Girl in UV light and in regular light
My dermatologist tells me that most people don't put enough sunscreen on, and you can see the difference in properly (thickly) applied sunscreen vs the thin layer we usually use.

Do you wear sunscreen regularly?