Monday, December 21, 2009

On the Twelfth Day of Trail Work....

John Muir Wilderness, Inyo Nat'l Forest, CA (2006)

In the spirit of the holiday season, here's a look at what our volunteers accomplished in 2009 - all 502 of them. On 47 trips. Over the course of more than 14,442 hours of work. (Valued at nearly $292,000).

And that's only the beginning.

See for yourself. You won't find any maids-a-milking or pipers piping here. Just lots of workers working:

- 84 miles of trail repaired
- 6 miles of new trail constructed
- 35 rock waterbars created
- 39 log waterbars built
- 89 bermed waterbars created
- 194 waterbars cleaned
- 206 checkdams placed
- 13 checkdams improved
- 159 trees cleared from trails
- 25.5 tons of rock used
- 1.5 miles of trail removed
- 8 miles of fences removed
- 1 mile of fence placed
- 64 fire-rings removed
- 19 illegal campsites removed
- 7 campsites restored
- 1.5 miles of road restored
- 11,578 invasive weeds removed
- 4 miles surveyed for weeds
- 2700 plants planted
- 3 miles of river cleared of Russian olive
- 120-feet of elevated boardwalk built
- 150-feet of dilapidated boardwalk removed
- 125-feet of causeway built
- 41 stone steps placed
- 1 large culvert built
- 30 logs peeled and placed in steps
- 2 dangerous puncheon sections removed
- 1 wooden overlook station built
- many greenhouse seedlings potted
- lots of trash picked up on beaches
- and several signs installed.

Did we miss anything? I want to know who counted all those weeds.

Nice work everyone. It's inspiring to see how much we can accomplish when we work together and each do our little part. Thanks for "Giving Something Back" in 2009!

Also, a special thanks goes out to outgoing WV President Bill Sheppard, who stepped in to serve as president over the last year and guided the organization through another successful year.

Bill has served on the board for several years, most recently as president and vice president, and has been a trip leader since 1998. Bill is an experienced outdoorsman (that's him smashing rocks in the picture on the far right), having led his first Sierra Club trip in 1990, and he will continue to lead trips and serve on the board of directors. People like Bill are hard to come by, and Wilderness Volunteers is thankful that he has chosen to devote such time and energy to the organization.

From all of us at Wilderness Volunteers, thank you Bill and thank you everyone!

Friday, December 18, 2009

WV in the AZ Daily Sun

North Kaibab National Forest, AZ (2009)

In mid-September, 13 participants spent a week in the North Kaibab Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest building steps into an eroded section of the North Canyon Trail and conducting general trail maintenance in the Saddle Mountain Wilderness.

Read about it here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

One Man's Trash...

Last week, we highlighted the ingenuity of volunteers with a short post on the capabilities of geotextile, a seemingly obscure material that, thanks to some resourceful and creative minds, has become an invaluable backcountry work tool.

Keeping with that theme of resourcefulness and conservation, here's a fascinating look at ingenuity on another level: Dan Phillips, a 64 year-old self-taught carpenter and founder of Phoenix Commotion, has spent the last 12 years using that seemingly useless product otherwise known as trash to build homes - 14 of them to be exact! Approximately 80 percent of the homes are constructed from recycled materials, consisting of everything from picture frame ceilings to wine cork floors to scrap wood siding. And yes, people do live in them. Take a look:

Read more about Dan and his work here.

P.S. Intrigued by what can be done with your trash? Dan isn't the only one up to great things. Check out the work of TerraCycle and the "upcycling" movement for another look at ingenuity in action.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Avoid camping in ponderosa forest in high wind

The following article is from the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff, Wednesday, December 09, 2009.

Tempe firefighter killed by tree snapped by wind

A Tempe firefighter was killed by a falling tree during severe winds Monday evening. According to information from the Coconino County Sheriff's Office, Skylar Stock, 27, of Queen Creek, died while he was sleeping in his tent. He and a friend had been camping near the Blue Ridge area off Highway 260 about 20 miles from Camp Verde. The men were elk hunting. Sheriff's detectives determined that Stock and his friend, at about 10 p.m., were camping in an area of high wind gusts that snapped a ponderosa pine tree in two. The broken-off trunk was about 2 feet thick and about 70 feet long. It hit Stock in the head, killing him. The friend, also in the tent at the time, was not injured and was able to escape the tent to call for emergency responders.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Great Escalante Flood of 2009

Escalante River Canyon, UT (2009)

When he's not teaching Latin American Literature at UC San Diego, Wilderness Volunteer trip leader Misha Kokotovic is busy battling invasive Russian Olive trees - notorious for choking off rivers and streams in the West - along Utah's Escalante River. His first WV trip led him to the Escalante in 1999, and he's been going back almost every year since - including this past year, which proved to be his most exciting trip yet.

"Near the end of our second day of work in the Escalante River canyon, we hear someone a few hundred yards downstream from us shouting. It’s someone from our group, so maybe he’s announcing that it’s quitting time. But the tone sounds more urgent than that, and some of us think we might have heard him shout the word “Flood!” That’s not implausible since it’s been cloudy all afternoon, and there were even a few drops of rain. The Escalante River had already risen a couple of inches over the course of the afternoon, which was enough to convince us to have everyone work on the river bank closest to camp so that nobody would get stranded for the night if there were a serious flood. So, yes, maybe he has been shouting “Flood!”

But we’re upstream of the shouting and see no sign of the river above us rising any further than it already has. Then we hear it: a steady roar downstream, which drowns out the shouting. All doubt is erased as the Escalante River reverses course and begins to flow upstream, carrying with it the Russian Olive branches we had cut over the past two days. Yes, there has in fact been a flood, but not the one we expected.

Rather than coming down the main Escalante drainage, the flood has come down the tributary drainage of Choprock Canyon. And our camp, our food, our tents – everything – is on the other side of Choprock, out of reach until the flood waters recede. Despite our precautions, it’s beginning to look like at least some of us may be going to bed hungry and without our camping gear.

We hike towards camp and gather on the river bank directly across from our tents, yet not everyone is accounted for. We can see one lucky group member who somehow ended up on the other side of Choprock and now waves to us from camp. Most of our group waits on the bank while a few of us hike back to the Escalante River to look for the missing, to no avail. We then walk up the Choprock drainage along the canyon rim and spot a group member on the opposite rim. After much gesturing and shouting over the flood waters below, we learn that two group members have been stranded farther up Choprock Canyon. Soon we’re on the rim above them and, after more gesturing and shouting, we’re reassured that they are safe and even enjoying the flood. Finally, the remaining members of the group, including Park Ranger Bill Wolverton, join us on the canyon rim. We’re all relieved that everyone has finally been accounted for, and it’s now time to reconstruct what happened.

Spotting the flood first were three volunteers who had quit work early in order to hike up Choprock Canyon in search of clear water for drinking and cooking (our main water source, the Escalante River, had become very muddy the day before). As they were filling the water jugs, they heard and then saw the flood racing down the canyon. Two were stranded on opposite banks of Choprock, while the third managed to outrun the flood and warn the rest of us – hence, the shouting we heard. Ranger Bill and another volunteer were the first to hear the warning and see the flood spill over into the Escalante River, overpowering the current and reversing the flow for several hundred yards upstream. Caught on the far bank of the Escalante, they hiked upstream to a safer crossing, and joined us on the rim of Choprock Canyon.

With everyone accounted for, but still separated from camp by a rising river, all we could do was ensure that everyone was safe and comfortable while we waited for the flood to subside. Fortunately, the water receded within four hours, and by dark we were all reunited in camp. Dinner was late, but good, and seasoned with stories of “The Great Escalante Flood of 2009” (the tall tales began long before the wash in Choprock was dry). We spent much of the next day – our free day – exploring Choprock Canyon and marveling at the flood’s effects.

Such excitement and adventure is not unusual on WV trips, and this flash flood was not the first I had experienced on an Escalante trip – though it was certainly the biggest and most dramatic. It was the high point of a fun but challenging week spent removing the invasive Russian Olive tree from the Escalante river corridor, an ongoing project to which WV has devoted the better part of the past decade. In that time, we have helped eradicate the Russian Olive from over 36 miles of the Escalante Canyon, preventing it from crowding out the native willows and cottonwoods and, in turn, making the hiking much more pleasant.

I’m always impressed by how much work even a small group of dedicated people can get done when they work together. I’m also heartened to see how people look after each other in the face of potential danger, such as our “Great Flood.” As soon as we realized what was happening, we set out to make sure everyone was accounted for and safe. Some people ran ahead to warn others, some helped locate the missing, and some moved others’ tents and gear to higher ground, and brought clothing and food (which, by the way, had to be lowered down a cliff) to those who were temporarily stranded. What could have been simply a frightening ordeal instead became a thrilling, shared experience.

The flood was the high point of the trip for everyone in the group – including me – but not merely because of the excitement it provided. The group’s response to the flood reminded me of what I like best about WV trips, even more than the good work we do and the adventures we enjoy: our ability to accomplish great things when we work together to fulfill our responsibilities to each other and to the land that sustains us."

Experience for yourself below:

For more on the project and the progress WV has made, check out Ranger Bill Wolverton's "War with the Russian Olive."

And for some great before-and-after shots of the work, click here.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

What's Geotextile?

A reader contacted me about the survey at the top of this page with precisely that question.

Since I had never heard of geotextile before using it on a trip two years ago, she's likely not the only one out there with this question. So I figured I'd share the short answer with the rest of you - and include a few pictures of geotextile in action.

According to the Society for Engineering in Agricultural, Food, and Biological Systems (ASAE), geotextile is a "fabric or synthetic material placed between the soil and a pipe, gabion, or retaining wall to enhance water movement and retard soil movement, and as a blanket to add reinforcement and separation."

What does that have to do with Wilderness Volunteers work projects?

With a little resourcefulness, a whole lot. You see, the fabric is extremely strong and highly resistant to tearing.

In other words: 4 volunteers + 1 geotextile = move big rocks far no problem.

Take a look:

Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, CO (2008)

Impressive...and not a single tear.

Better yet, true to the ASAE's definition, geotextile can be used as a "blanket" - of sorts.

That's ingenuity for you...and a heckuva tool. Not to mention a whole lot lighter to carry than a rock bar or a pulaski!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

America's Wild Spaces

Denali National Park, AK (2007)

If you're looking for something to do this Thanksgiving, and watching the Cowboys annual Thanksgiving football game doesn't fit the bill, check out National Geographic's new series titled "Americas Wild Spaces."

The series takes an in-depth look at Yellowstone National Park (all 2 million acres of it, which makes it bigger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined), Death Valley (from its highest peak at 11,049 feet to its lowest point 282 feet below sea level), the Grand Canyon (which, yes, can be seen from space), the Appalachian Trail (all 2,175 miles, 165,000 white blazes, and 5 million steps), the Everglades (and its 1000 species of plants, 300 species of birds, and 27 species of snakes - 4 of them venomous), Yosemite National Park (home to Yosemite Falls, which is 13 times taller than Niagara, and giant sequoias that are wider than most city streets), Hawaii's Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (try saying that ten times fast!), Canyonlands National Park (and its thousand year old rock art and petroglyphs), and Denali (home to North America's tallest mountain - which is still growing!).

The Thanksgiving day marathon begins at 2pm on the National Geographic Channel. Check the schedule here.

Interested in visiting any of these places? Check out the WV 2010 project list, which features projects in many of these locations. Spring projects have been posted, and Summer/Fall projects will be announced on December 4th.

Happy Thanksgiving...and Happy Trails!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

RSS -- What is it?

Ever wonder what this symbol means when you see it on a blog (it's on the right side of this blog just a little down the page)? RRS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and this symbol allows you to subscribe to blog feeds so you'll know when new content is posted.
Commoncraft has created a video, "RSS in Plain English" that does a great job of explaining how RSS can be a great tool to follow the blogs that you check everyday.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Leave No Trace

Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, CO (2008)

For those of you interested in a Leave No Trace (LNT) refresher and for those of you new to the movement, check out this new online awareness course offered by the folks at Leave No Trace.

The Seven Leave No Trace Principals

1) Plan Ahead and Prepare
2) Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
3) Dispose of Waste Properly
4) Leave What You Find
5) Minimize Campfire Impacts
6) Respect Wildlife
7) Be Considerate of Other Visitors

You can watch the National Park Service LNT video here.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

On Fire

Sawtooth National Forest, ID (2007)

There's a fascinating post by New York Times columnist and evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson about the role of fire in nature, particularly forests. Whereas many of us often think of fire as a destructive force that ruins forests and wilderness, Judson points out that fire spurs new growth and can reinvigorate an ecosystem - which makes perfect sense.

But here's what's more interesting: many species of plants and trees in fire-prone areas appear to have evolved to be highly flammable. That is, these plants have evolved to cause fires as the propagation of their species - and the destruction of the competition - is dependent on their ability to burn. Read about what Judson calls the "torch-me hypothesis" here.

(For those of you that want to keep reading, check out Judson's post on the impact of large predators - or the lack thereof - on an ecosystem.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Then and the Inyo

Inyo National Forest, CA (2002)

Volunteer leader Kathleen Worley, who in her day job can be found onstage or teaching theatre at Reed College in Portland, OR reports on her latest trip to the Sierra's Inyo National Forest:

"This summer I had the opportunity to return to an area where I'd previously led a Wilderness Volunteers trip seven years ago: the John Muir Wilderness in the Eastern Sierra's Inyo National Forest.

Back then, the beginning of the trail to Upper Pine Lake was primarily an old mining road. Now, that road has been transformed into a single track with some pretty impressive steps built by WV and Forest Service crews.

Back then, there were four teenagers on the trip, and Ron Harton, my co-leader, hiked with them to the top of Mt. Julius Caesar. Now, one of those teenagers is part of the trail crew for the Inyo National Forest.

When he found out that a WV crew was working in the national forest , he hiked up to see us on his day off. On our day off, we hiked a loop over Pine Creek Pass, over to the Royce Lakes, and back down past Honeymoon Lake. On our way down, we walked past the trail we first worked on seven years ago. There were the steps we had built, still in good shape. Grasses and tiny plants were growing around the stone path we had laid at the edge of the meadow; a toad hopped by, his meadow habitat now safe from trampling by wandering big-footed hikers whose path was now clearly marked before them.

Inyo National Forest, CA (2009)

Like our work seven years ago, this year's work project also was designed to renovate the trail and protect watershed areas by building steps above a stream crossing and near a riparian area next to a crystal clear cascade.

Once again, our group was fabulous, working with great humor, sharing jokes and stories, pitching in with co-leader Misha Kokotovic to build a "scenic" latrine, and celebrating a birthday with matches (in lieu of candles) planted in chocolate Double-Stuff Oreos. Ingenuity at its finest!

Together, we made the world a little bit safer for toads and the trails a little bit better for people."

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Calling all Volunteers - Spring Trips are on the Website!

Leader Training Trip, Inyo National Forest, CA (2006)

The spring 2010 trips are up! Check them out here.

The summer and fall trips will be posted during the first week of December.

Start planning your adventures now for the new year!

During the months of October and December, only supporters of Wilderness Volunteers will be placed on trips. To become a supporter, click on the Support WV tab on the website.

If you submit an application for a trip in either of these months and are not a supporter, we will save your application until November or January and put you on the trip if space is still available at that time.

Got questions? Email us at

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Sawtooths: The Lesser Known West Side

The View from High Pass in the Sawtooth Mountains, ID

Wilderness Volunteers has a long association with the Sawtooth Wilderness in central Idaho, and volunteer leader and board member Gayle Marechal has led a trip there every year since 2003. This August, Gayle - who I might add makes the best blueberry pancakes you will ever eat in the backcountry - and his wife Bunny led a group of volunteers on a service project on the west side of the Sawtooths. As always, the trip was an adventure. Here's their report:

"The Sawtooth Valley in central Idaho spreads out expansively before anyone who crosses over Galena Pass north of the Sun Valley-Ketchum area. Just over the pass, the headwaters of the fabled Salmon River are visible, and thirty miles north is the tiny town of Stanley, the hub of activity in the Sawtooths. The easily accessible east side of the Sawtooths is where most visitors experience the area. However, there is another lesser explored but no less beautiful part of the wilderness which can be accessed from the west side of the Sawtooth Mountains. That is where we headed.

Little Queens River Trailhead

This year’s meeting spot was the Little Queen’s River Trailhead, and just getting there is an adventure. After leaving the pavement north of Idaho City, a forty-mile drive on narrow, bumpy, gravel roads awaits. At the end of those roads is a trailhead usually empty of cars, and this year was no exception. Miles of wilderness solitude awaited us just beyond the edge of the forest. By early evening, all the WV participants and our Forest Service friends - pack animals and all - had arrived, and our trek into the wilderness was set to begin the next morning.

Grazing the Stock

Anyone who has ever been on a trip with pack animals (in this case, mules) knows that "packing" the animals is a slow and meticulous process. After moving all the communal gear and food near to where the stock was tethered so that our two Forest Service leaders, Deb and Kent, could begin packing, we began our eight-mile hike into the Sawtooths. As soon as the sun was up, we knew it was going to be a hot day - and a hot week. The hike to camp required several creek crossings and a gradual ascent of approximately 2,200 feet. We camped in some dense forest by a meadow where the stock could graze and near a creek where we could collect water and refresh ourselves after a hard - and hot - day of work.

Walking to Work

Our work project involved widening and leveling a long stretch of steep switchbacks on both sides of High Pass. Getting to the worksite required a long, steep climb, but each day the walk was a bit shorter (though hardly any easier) since we completed the work on the farthest reaches first. Progress was slow but steady, and after two days of work we had completed the north side of the pass and a couple of long switchbacks on the south side of the pass. We had earned our day off and intended to enjoy the solitude of the western Sawtooths. Most of the group headed to Brown’s Lake for a day of quiet relaxation, while a few of the more adventuresome folks bushwhacked to Diamond Lake in pursuit of excellent fishing opportunities.

Brown’s Lake

After enjoying our free day, we awoke Thursday with renewed energy and enthusiasm which enabled us to widen and level several long switchbacks, despite all the roots and large rocks that seemed to pop up in all the wrong places! We persevered and, by the end of our third work day, had transformed a potentially unsafe trail into a trail that can be traveled easily by hikers and folks on horseback. Deb mentioned that our work probably would last ten years.

Rock Removal

While we worked, the weather changed dramatically. We watched as storm clouds moved rapidly through the mountains, bringing high winds and cooler temperatures. The hot weather was coming to an end. By the time we returned to camp, the temperature had dropped considerably, the rain had begun falling, and we were happy that we had hung a large tarp on the day we first arrived in camp. Everyone put on an extra layer, gathered under the tarp, and watched the storm clouds move across the sky while Gayle and Bunny prepared dinner. The next morning there was snow on the upper ridges, and the clouds hung low over the meadow. We delayed climbing High Pass until the weather improved, and eventually it did. We headed to work, finished one last section of the trail, and hiked to the top of the pass where we admired our week's accomplishments.

Stormy Skies

By morning the rain had stopped, but its damage had already been done as everyone hiked out with packs burdened by the load of wet tents. The cloudy, cooler weather made for a pleasant and leisurely hike to the trailhead where we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. Next year, WV will be back on the more popular east side of the Sawtooths. I’ll miss the solitude of the west side, but I sure won’t miss that bumpy ride on those gravel roads, and none of us will miss that marauding deer who roamed through the camp that night chewing anything that had a bit of salt on it!"