Sunday, December 19, 2010

Buffalo River Trail Project

In 2010, Wilderness Volunteers ran three trips along Arkansas's Buffalo National River, assisting in the construction of the 26-mile Buffalo National River Trail. Here's a look at these volunteers in action:

Piqued your interest in a project? Check out the 2011 project list here, and sign up today.

Monday, December 13, 2010

2010 WV Year In Review

To say that Wilderness Volunteers had a great year would be an understatement. WV completed forty-seven projects with a total of 529 participants. Some of WV's accomplishments include the maintenance of seventy-one miles of trails, the construction of seven miles of new trails, the building of 166 waterbars of various constructions, the building of eighty check dams, and improving thirteen more.

WV participants did much more as well, removing three hundred trees from trails, closing five miles of trails and one mile of road, removing five miles of fencing, 153 illegal fire rings, sixty-three illegal campsites, and 61,000 invasive weeds (some of them tree-sized). Participants also placed one mile of fencing, restored seventy-five campsites, surveyed thirteen square miles of area for weeds, completed two miles of archaeological survey, and planted 7,403 plants. And this still isn't everything; there was salmon and sea turtle habitat restoration and much more. Now that's a year of which we can all be proud!

Volunteers of all ages and backgrounds participated in 2010—to Alaska and Florida, Hawaii and Maine and places in between. Some traveled to experience the tranquility and solitude of wilderness; some to make new friends. Whatever their reasons, all these volunteers came to give something back to one of our country's precious national forests or parks. The description below, composed by a first-timer, demonstrates the amazing diversity of goals and experiences people bring to Wilderness Volunteers trips. Enjoy!

By Jacque Phillips

My 20-year-old niece and I participated in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness project during the last week of July. It was a week of connections. Connections to a group of people we had never met. Connections to the mountains we had never seen. Connections to the trail for which we were responsible. And, for us, the most important connection of all.

We were not "real" campers like other group members. We liked the hard work but not the hard ground. We did not have cool gear but instead had whatever we had borrowed from friends and bought from Goodwill. Yet while we laid in our flooded tent and missed our morning lattes, we connected. We connected through laughter—the kind of laughter that we can't stop. Laughter because it has rained for hours and we're laying in a mud puddle and we have to go to the bathroom. Laughter because we can't sleep and we're worried that our laughter will wake up the cool people on our trip.

We connected through powerful conversations on the trail while we worked and while we took breaks. Those were the conversations we needed to have. Those were the conversations we came for. My only nephew died when he was eighteen. He spent the final summer of his life working on trails in those same mountains. And so of all the connections during the trip, the most important one was with him.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Give Something Back in 2011

Selway Bitterroot Wilderness, ID (2010)

The 2011 Wilderness Volunteer service projects are on the website - all 55 of them!

Spread across 21 states - including Alaska, Hawaii, and a handful of states east of the Mississippi - projects range from trail maintenance and trail building to invasive species removal, campsite restoration, revegetation and more. Regardless of your age and experience, there's a project for everyone - including two canoe trips. Not interested in "roughin' it" in the backcountry, or looking for a less strenuous adventure? Try a front-country car camping trip. Check out the schedule and reserve your place now.

As always, these trips would not be possible without our volunteer leaders, who each year generously donate their time and energy to coordinate trip logistics, prepare menus and meals, and lead groups of eager volunteers into the backcountry. If you're interested in joining this outstanding bunch, consider signing up for the 2011 Wilderness Volunteers Leader Training Trip in the Santa Fe National Forest's Pecos Wilderness.

Lastly, as we enter the holiday season, consider giving the gift of adventure: a Wilderness Volunteers gift certificate. For just $299, you can provide friends and family with stunning landscapes and starry nights, camaraderie and good cheer, and the satisfaction of "giving something back" in one of America's magnificent wild places.

Thanks again for "Giving Something Back" in 2011!

Got questions? Send us a note at

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Does a Body Good

Every other week, there seems to be another article or book highlighting the benefits of spending time in the great outdoors for those young and old. Julie Deardorff of the Chicago Tribune wrote recently that "a daily dose of nature can help keep kids motivated." According to the Journal of Environmental Psychology, spending time in nature makes us "feel more alive" and can result in greater motivation and learning capacity - which means kids do better in the classroom. And with kids spending more time indoors once the school year starts, there's all the more reason to emphasize the need to spend an hour or two outside each day.

Works for me. Read the whole story in the Denver Post here.

On a related note - for the older crowd among us - here's some inspiration to get you out to climb that mountain, run that race, to push your limits at the gym. Meet Olga Kotelko, 91-year old master athlete, holder of 23 world records - 17 of which she has set in the last year. She does the long jump and the hammer throw, runs the 100 meter dash in less than 25 seconds, and does the shot put, bench press, high jump, discus throw, javelin, and more. And she only started at the age of 77 which, correct me if I'm mistaken, is when most people are quitting things - walking being chief among them.

Apparently little old ladies aren't what they used to be. Read the full story and watch the video here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Quote of the Day

“It always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on a tent.” — Dave Barry, Pulitzer-Prize winning author and comedian

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Betty White - Honorary Forest Ranger

It's official. The former Golden Girl star - who admitted to childhood aspirations of working alongside Smokey the Bear - was recognized last week as an honorary forest ranger by the US Forest Service at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, DC .

"Wilderness is getting harder and harder to find these days on our beautiful planet and we’re abusing our planet to the point of almost no return," White said. "In my heart I’ve been a forest ranger all my life, but now I’m official."

No word yet on if and when Betty will be leading a Wilderness Volunteers trip in 2011. At 88-years strong, I'm sure she could show the rest of us a thing or two.

Read more about Betty's big day here.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Where's Your Other Wheel?

This past summer marked my sixth Wilderness Volunteers trip since I first hit the trail as a WV participant back in 2000. Every trip has been memorable, fun, different, and full of good people, good work, good laughs, and good stories - like that one about the unicyclist.

That's right - the unicyclist.

Of all the things you might expect to see while driving to the trailhead along a narrow, winding, rolling mountain pass deep in a remote national forest, a unicyclist is not one of them. Amidst the tractor trailers and logging trucks barreling along the pavement, the swift, roaring whitewater only feet from your front wheels in the gorge below, and the towering mountain walls and runaway truck ramps bordering the roadway, an individual on a one-wheeled contraption best known for its role in a juggling act in the circus surely does not belong here.

Or so you'd think.

As we cruise along Idaho's scenic Highway 12 at a cautious 50 miles-per-hour, leaning into each turn with an occasional anxious glance in the side mirror for that reassuring white line, then touch the brakes to slow our descent down a steep section of one of the country's most picturesque roadways, we see something - someone - just off the shoulder in the oncoming lane. At first glance, it appears to be a cyclist (the Tour de France type) out for a day's ride, climbing what must be one of countless, punishing hills along his route.

But something is different. This guy is riding upright, with no hands, and only one wheel beneath him. And though he isn't wearing big floppy shoes, a painted face, or juggling bowling pins or flaming swords in his hands, he is definitely riding a unicycle. And he's riding it uphill, in the middle of Idaho's Clearwater National Forest, on a highway, as 18-wheelers and whitewater rumble by.

Unicycling looks hard enough, and unicycling uphill - on a narrow highway - looks even harder. I can only wonder how he's going to make it down the other side. Do unicycles even have brakes?

It turns out they do, and that unicyclist is Sky Horne, a 21 year-old from Baltimore, MD, and a self-proclaimed "ultralite backpacker" (he thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail last year) and "passionate unicyclist" (who seeks to dispell the myth that unicyclists are merely circus performers). As you've likely now concluded, he wasn't simply out for a joy ride.

Sky's journey began some 2,500 miles away in Yorktown, VA. By the time we encountered him along Idaho's Highway 12, he was well on his way to finishing his 3 month, 4,262 mile cross-country journey which would conclude in Astoria, OR. With just an iPod and a six-and-a-half pound pack on his back, Sky has couch surfed and cowboy camped his way across America's heartland - while riding a unicycle, of course. What a way to see the country.

After passing this ambitious "thirty-sixer" (so named for the 36-inch wheel on which he rides), we rendezvous with the WV group at the trailhead, and begin our journey into camp deep in the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness. It turns out others had seen Sky, too, and some had a chance to speak with him as he took a quick break at the Ranger Station (one of just a few breaks he allows himself during his daily 50-60 mile slog). Eyes widen in amazement, and smiles and laughter abound at the thought of anyone riding a unicycle across the country - let alone through the mountains, on Highway 12. Who would have thought?

We hit the trailhead, having accepted that our 10 mile hike has increased to 14 due to a late-breaking project relocation. No sweat. Our group is off. The hiking is long and hard. But as the day wears on, our packs grow heavy, shoulders tire, feet ache, the sun heats up. The mountains rise and the trail follows. Up, down. Up, down. 7, then 6, then 4 miles to go. This is harder than we thought. How much longer? This is the longest distance I've ever had to hike to base camp. Are we there yet?

And though our bodies begin to suffer, our minds don't. We push on. This group is tough. Each time spirits begin to show the slightest chance of slipping, or someone drops back, the group erupts, "Remember the Unicyclist!"


Hat's off to Sky. And hat's off to dispelling the myth that unicyclists are mere circus performers. Apparently they're mountain men, too.

Read more about Sky's adventure here.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

New CPR Guidelines

The American Heart Association has released new CPR guidelines that change A-B-C (airway, breathing, compressions) to C-A-B (compressions first) except for newborn babies.

The main take-away from the new guidelines is that action is more important than assessment in cardiac arrest. No more looking, listening, feeling -- start compressions immediately. Push a little harder (at least 2 inches); push a little faster (at least 100 compressions a minute).

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Trip or Treat?

As Halloween approaches, the 2010 WV trip season comes to an end. Thanks to all our trip leaders and volunteers who "gave something back" and contributed to another successful year. We're tallying up the final numbers of trails cleared, bridges built, rocks hauled, waterbars installed, plants planted - you name it. All in all, we accomplished a lot and our national parks, forests, and wilderness areas have you to thank!

And though trip season may be over, it's not time to put those boots away just yet. So when the pumpkins have been carved, the tricks have been played, and the candy is long gone, head out for a Halloween hike. Check out the list of hikes happening across the country this Halloween.

My wife and I will be doing just that - and trying to keep our heads about us - as we hike through Sleepy Hollow this Saturday.

Happy Trails!

And Happy Halloween from WV!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

12 More iPhone Apps for the Outdoors

Whether you're taking your iPhone with you on a dayhike or a full-blown backpacking trip, here are some apps that could come in handy. Includes park maps, a neat flash-light feature, bird and tree guides, survival techniques, even a guide to animal tracks and scat!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Project Noah

I don't own an iPhone and don't plan to buy one anytime soon. I was slow to purchase a cell-phone, prefer a simple roadmap to a GPS system, and don't understand all the excitement about eBooks and eReaders. My friends and siblings - hot on the trail of new technology and all its bells and whistles - call me "old fashioned" and, despite being just 29 years young, an old man. (Note: I do own a used iPod and am computer savvy, so I would argue that those labels are at best only half-true - and not necessarily a bad thing.)

That's not to say that new technology doesn't have its merits. In many cases, I'm just not interested in paying for something that I already have ("Why buy a GPS when I own a road atlas?"), can get for less ("Library books are free!"), or can do without ("An iPhone"). In addition to being called an old man by those closest to me, I've also been called cheap. Fair enough. I call it a virtue.

That said, here's a neat iPhone application that, if I owned an iPhone, would be in my toolkit. Developed by two university students, Project Noah is a tool that nature lovers can use to explore and document local wildlife, and add their findings to a global database which scientists and like-minded organizations can use to support their research. Surprisingly - and here's the key - it's simple enough for amateurs to record the specimens they find, but detailed enough that professionals can use the information in their research.

Here's how it works:

1) Users photograph bugs, plants, and wildlife, label the images, and submit them to Noah's site. Location details are automatically captured by the system, and all information is stored in a database.

2) Scientists, research groups, and your average nature lover can access the database to learn about what's living in the area, track migrating birds and invasive species, document endangered species, and more. Information can be used for a variety of purposes: to support scientific research, enhance a simple day hike, or bring nature into the classroom.

And in keeping with the spirit of the "citizen science" movement popularized by traditions such as the Audobon Society's Christmas Bird Count, Noah is currently working with a variety of groups to gather critical information about the environmental impacts of the Gulf Coast Oil Spill, and is coordinating efforts to save endangered wildlife in the impacted areas.

I think Project Noah certainly could come in handy - and be a lot of fun - in the backcountry.

And better yet - it's free!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Spring Trips are on the Website!

Selway Bitterroot Wilderness, ID (2010)

That's right. Just as the 2010 trip season concludes with a week of trail-building along Arkansas' Buffalo National River, the 2011 spring trip schedule is up and ready to go.

Highlights include two alternative spring break trips featuring students from the University of Minnesota and DePaul University, half-a-dozen trips maintaining trails and battling invasive Russian olive and tamarisk throughout Utah, as well as adventures in Yosemite, the White Mountains, and the Pacific Northwest.

Click here for the full list.

As always, we're seeking volunteers from all walks of life, all parts of the country, and all levels of experience. Sign up here.

And stay tuned for summer and fall projects, which will be posted in December.

(Note that only supporters of Wilderness Volunteers can sign up during the months of October and December. Applications from non-Supporters will be kept until Nov 1st and Jan 1st, and accepted if space is still available. To become a supporter, click here.)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Quote of the Day

Forest Park - Portland, OR (2009)

This one comes from one of the great outdoor reads of our time, A Walk in the Woods, courtesy of Bill Bryson.

“All the books tell you that if the grizzly comes for you, on no account should you run. This is the sort of advice you get from someone who is sitting at a keyboard when he gives it. Take it from me, if you are in an open space with no weapons and a grizzly comes for you, run. You may as well. If nothing else, it will give you something to do with the last seven seconds of your life."

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Measuring Old-Growth, Using Your Inseam

Selway Bitterroot Wilderness, ID (2010)

Open any outdoor magazine and you can find countless gadgets and gizmos that will make your backpacking trip more pleasant. The options range from the simple and obvious - Leatherman, headlamp, Duct Tape - to the advanced and luxurious - GPS, solar powered battery chargers, ultraviolet water purifiers - to the downright strange and unusual - think thermoelectric galoshes and wearable windmills. (Yes, these things do exist.)

Yet despite the onslaught and advances of modern technology, backcountry resourcefulness and ingenuity is not dead. Not even close. Anyone who's ever "used leaves" can attest to that. (As can anyone who's ever been hiking above treeline, without a pack, in a burn zone, heard nature's call, and turned to his Leatherman and T-shirt for salvation. Sleeveless anyone?)

In some cases, our ingenuity has even been helped along by this very technological progress. (Ever taken a picture on your digital camera of a serious backcountry injury and given it to someone who's headed for help?) Still, there exists a strong - and contentious - argument that our survival skills have been hampered by the very technology designed to make our lives easier and safer. (See these New York Times and Slate articles for point and counterpoint in that debate.)

Regardless of where you stand on that issue, it is indisputable that one of the great joys of backpacking is the unique opportunity it provides people of all backgrounds and experience levels to exercise creativity and resourcefulness in their efforts to be self-reliant and solve problems - no matter how big or small.

And with that, here's one volunteer's creative approach to problem-solving on WV's Mount Rainier National Park service trip. Read about it here.

Have any tips or creative tales of your own to share? Share them here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Flash Flood

I just returned from the Glen Canyon NRA project where we are removing Russian olive trees from the main corridor of the Escalante River. I've been involved in this project since the mid-1990s, and really enjoy seeing the river cleared of this massively invasive alien. These trees kill the native species and crowd everything along the river's edge, hanging over the river and making travel along the river a painful experience. The trees have long needle-sharp red thorns.
Here are two shots of the river, before and after removal of the trees.We reached the 40-mile mark with this trip -- 40-miles of the river corridor have been cleared of the awful trees from the reservoir (Lake Powell) upriver. Follow-up trips every fall keep new starts and any regrowth in check.

On our day off, GLCA Ranger Bill Wolverton takes us on the most incredible dayhikes. I've been in tiny slot canyons, up scary Moki steps, up and down chimneys, learned all about canyoneering, visited remote arches, slithered through mud cracks, rinsed off in refreshing waterfalls, climbed sand dams and entered fern grottos. I can't wait for the next trip here in the spring.

Which brings me to to the title of this post: We are always watching the river while on these projects, and have witnessed several episodes of the water rising quickly and side channels flooding, even when the sky is clear. When it's raining, we are careful to keep all the volunteers on the side of the river where camp is located, but have had a couple of incidents where folks were trapped on the other side for a couple of hours or overnight waiting for the river to drop. We've had no injuries due to our diligence.

Wilderness Volunteers leader Curt Mobley has a story of a flash flood in Zion when he was hiking with this wife Ann Kruse a few years back that was told in the Sept 2010 issue of Sierra Magazine, and he's given us permission to share his story here (click on the picture to see the full image):

Sunday, September 19, 2010

By Foot and By Paddle - WV Heads to the Hills and the Water

Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, CO (2010)

It's been a busy year for volunteer leaders Robin and Carter Bland, who have led four trips all across the country, ranging from the canyons of Utah to the mountains of New Hampshire. And they're not done yet, as they've just embarked on yet another trip to Maine's Acadia National Park. As you can imagine, all that hiking makes for plenty to write about. Here's Robin's report (and a recipe) from their latest adventures:

"Over a five week span this summer, I enjoyed two different and beautiful Wilderness Volunteers experiences. In late July, I participated in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness project led by Brian Bone and my husband, Carter Bland. We camped at 10,800 feet beneath spectacular jagged peaks and alongside huge meadows of wildflowers at peak bloom. Our work project was building check dams and waterbars on the West Maroon Pass trail between Crested Butte and Aspen. Each day, as we lunched amidst this glorious scenery, I thought there’s no better view at the best table in the finest restaurant! On Tuesday, a photographer from the Crested Butte News happened to hike by and stopped to take a photo of our crew. Later in the week, other hikers passing us on the trail mentioned that they had seen our picture in the paper - what great publicity for Wilderness Volunteers. On our day off, some of us hiked to Frigid Air pass, where we were rewarded by a fantastic view of the iconic Maroon Bells. Luckily, we reached the pass before any rumble of thunder - a daily occurrence in summer afternoons - could turn us back. It was a week enjoyed by novice backpackers and veterans alike."

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, MN (2010)

"A month later, I enjoyed a very different landscape when Carter and I led a WV crew to a beautiful corner of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in the Superior National Forest of northern Minnesota. The BWCAW comprises over one million acres of crystal clear lakes, sparkling streams, and boreal forest. After shuttling across Lake Vermillion in a US Forest Service power boat, we paddled our canoes across Trout and Pine Lakes to our basecamp where we set up for a week of portage trail maintenance and campsite rehab. One of our tasks was to build a stone staircase at the landing for our campsite. We were treated to gorgeous weather all week and, after work each day, were rewarded with a dip - or long swim for some - in the warm water. As for the legendary BWCAW mosquitoes and biting flies...they more or less left us in peace for the week. Loons and whippoorwills serenaded us each night as we sat by our campfire and watched the light of the full moon glisten across the water. It was a little bit of heaven."

Two beautiful trips, two different landscapes. Two great ways to Give Something Back.


Here is a recipe for a cereal/energy bar that was popular on both trips. Some ate it at breakfast; others took it to have alongside their lunch.

1 cup peanut butter
1 1/4 cup honey
4 cups Grape-Nuts cereal ( or use a generic barley nugget cereal)
1 cup quick cooking oatmeal
1 cup raisins or craisins

Combine honey and peanut butter in saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add the remaining ingredients, mixing well.
Spread into a 9”X13” baking pan that has been sprayed with cooking oil (e.g. Pam). Use wax paper to press into pan and flatten it out. Cool in refrigerator for 30 minutes, cut into bars, and enjoy!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Lights, Camera...Awesome!

I've enjoyed lots of incredible sights during my time in the woods with Wilderness Volunteers. Bull elk grazing along the Continental Divide. Mama moose and calf taking a dip in a mountain lake. Eagles soaring on high. Breathtaking sunsets and moonrises, and gorgeous views of peaks and valleys. Beautiful waterfalls, picturesque streams, and swimming holes that leave you with a smile. A week's worth of work knocked out in a matter of days. And total strangers transformed into lifelong friends in only a week's time.

It's what keeps me coming back.

But nothing I have seen over the last ten years could have prepared me for what I witnessed in Idaho's backcountry last month. Heads are still shaking, jaws still agape at the slightest mention of it. The display of sheer skill and athleticism was mesmerizing, unparalleled in the rest of the animal kingdom, and left me (and others) in disbelief.

I don't know how else to say it: we witnessed greatness.

Fortunately, the cameras were rolling. I could go on, but it's best you see for yourself.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Idaho's Sawtooths Revisited

Sawtooth Wilderness, ID (2010)

One of the numerous rewards of having been a Wilderness Volunteers leader for many years is working with the same people - both trip participants and agency personnel. Often on my trips, I will already know close to half the participants from having worked with them previously. I have also enjoyed the working relationships I have established with certain agency personnel in areas to which I have returned over the years as a trip leader, and in no place is this more so than in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in central Idaho.

I have been going to the Sawtooths since 1992, and I have been leading WV trips there since 2003. Since I began leading trips to the Sawtooths, I have come to know Liese Dean, the Wilderness Program Coordinator, and we have an easy and cordial working relationship. In 2004, I began working in the backcountry with Deb Peters, who not only packs in, with the help of some mules and horses, all the tools, commissary gear, and food but works with and guides the WV groups in various projects. I have felt fortunate in knowing these two individuals who are dedicated to preserving and maintaining the beautiful Sawtooth Wilderness. Their enthusiasm and love of the area is contagious and has been instrumental in my returning year after year to the Sawtooths.

This year’s trip was a special one for me because Liese and Deb honored me and my co-leader and wife, Bunny, with tangible recognition of our contribution in sweat equity to the Sawtooths. I was given a beautiful framed photograph of a lake high in the Sawtooths surrounded by mountains. Bunny received a much more practical but no less thoughtful gift of some Smokey Bear sleep bottoms. She proudly wore them each evening of the Sawtooth trip. My memento now has an honored place on a wall at home.

The trip was special for other reasons as well. John Kaye and his son Rob have been participating in the Sawtooth trip since 2004. John has been there every year, and having him along is like having a third unofficial leader. Rob hasn’t been on the trip every year, but when he is, I appreciate his strength, work ethic, and enthusiasm for the task at hand. I was especially happy to have veteran trip participants such as John and Rob on this trip because the work we did was not only technical in nature but difficult and strenuous. Luckily the entire crew was equally enthusiastic and hard working, making the week we spent in the backcountry one of the more pleasant and satisfying in recent memory.

Our work was on the Iron Creek Trail, the trail which leads to Sawtooth Lake, and is probably the most popular trail on the east side of the Sawtooths. The main project was rebuilding a section of shelf trail that was in danger of collapsing. Repairing this section of trail required a method known as cribbing. Cribbing involves placing a sturdy base of rocks below the trail tread by digging into the downhill side of the trail. Rocks are then added to this base until the structure reaches above the existing trail. The tread is then filled in. This method of trail building requires the use of large rocks which are of the appropriate size and shape. Five of us worked on a section of trail which was approximately thirty feet long. The cribbing base was in some parts about ten feet below the tread. The group dismantled and rebuilt the section in two and a half days. Other members of the group completed a smaller section of cribbing, removed rocks from the trail, widened the trail, built stone steps, cleared rubble from the trail, cut back tree branches, and generally improved the trail. Each day dozens of day hikers and a few backpackers came by as we worked; our group and the work we were doing became a showcase for what WV does.

Not only did this group work hard, but its members played hard and were a hardy group. Our campsite was at Alpine Lake, a small lake about a half mile from the main worksite. Each evening we reaped the benefits of lakeside camping by utilizing the lake for leisurely swims, fishing, and contemplative relaxation. One hardy soul took a chilly, early morning swim each day. On the free day, folks went fishing at other lakes, climbed nearby peaks, and hiked. No one stayed in camp. Camp chores got done quickly and often by someone who wasn’t even on duty. I was even brought freshly caught fish on more than one occasion, and I gladly prepared these treats as additional appetizers for the group. Thanks to all who helped make the 2010 Sawtooth trip one of the best ever.

Below is one of the dishes I prepared on this year’s trip.

Vegetarian Curry

4 cups Dried potatoes
3 cups water
2 onions chopped
3 bell peppers chopped
2 cups Lentils
1 tsp cumin
¼ cup Curry Powder
Basmati Rice

Thursday, August 26, 2010

From the Peninsula Clarion

From the Peninsula Clarion

Friday, August 20, 2010

Story last updated at 8/20/2010 - 1:02 pm

Refuge Notebook: Wilderness Volunteers help rebuild trail

Photo By Refuge Staff

The 2010 Wilderness Volunteers trail crew and staff from the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The volunteers came from around the U.S. and worked on the Cottonwood Creek Trail above Skilak Lake.
The author, Ciara Johnson, is kneeling in the front row, second from the left.

Let me introduce you to the Wilderness Volunteers. Their mission is "Stewardship of America's wild lands through organizing and promoting volunteer service in cooperation with public land agencies." Earlier this year leaders from this organization contacted the Refuge and began a conversation that is still alive and well today. They offered to send a group of volunteers from all over the United States to do a one-week service project in one of the wilderness areas of the Refuge.

We jumped at the opportunity and began a partnership with the Wilderness Volunteers leadership. Before we knew it, June was here and with it came two Wilderness Volunteers trip leaders. They walked into our Headquarters in Soldotna and within ten minutes were making preparations for the week-long trip into the backcountry.

By Saturday afternoon the boats were loaded, trucks were packed with 16 backpacks, bulging bear canisters, sacks of tools, hardhats, tarps, ropes, propane, stoves, cameras, binoculars, maps, radios, rain jackets, tents, bear spray, and Refuge rangers Ryan Beltz and myself.

It was time for take off. Into the trucks piled volunteers ranging from grandparents to grandson, financial planner to opera singer, first-time wilderness volunteer to a 16-trip veteran.

This group wanted the full wilderness experience: no permanent shelters at camp and no machines to do the work project, only human power and creativity. So we went by boat across Skilak Lake to camp at the mouth of Cottonwood Creek. Upon landing, every pair of hands was immediately busy pitching tents, raising tarps, and digging a latrine.

Everyone emerged from their tents the next morning with a bald eagle soaring above camp, the lake glistening, and coffee brewing. The day had been scheduled for recreation, a chance for the volunteers to get situated and enjoy the area. Not a soul was willing to relax around camp, however, and by 9am every person was on the trail, ready to accompany Ryan and me on a hike to the top in preparation for a trail maintenance project.

That evening over dinner, excitement was growing for the project we had scouted -- a reroute around a steep, eroded mud slick. There must have been something good in the corn chowder -- the group was setting goals high, eager for hard work and a chance to make a lasting contribution to the refuge.

As the size and scale of the project plans grew, the volunteers decided to invite the Refuge trail crew to join the effort. With a wave of the logistical wand five new pairs of experienced hands arrived 36 hours later.

No one skipped a beat -- volunteers and crew members who call anywhere from Boston to Tucson home quickly and seamlessly began working side by side, teaching, digging, and sawing -- all the while getting to know each other for the first time. In the course of two days, the new trail corridor had been cleared. The volunteers transformed their enthusiasm and vision into hard skills - swinging Pulaskis and pulling crosscuts. Thick alders, stubborn roots, and buckets upon buckets of debris disappeared in a blur of yellow gloves and blue hardhats. By the third day dead trees had been felled, de-barked, sawed into three-foot sections, notched, and assembled into steps that will prevent the trail from eroding over time.

On Thursday afternoon the work had been completed. Fourteen volunteers, five refuge trail workers, and two refuge rangers had joined together for one week and built a section of trail that will last for decades to come. We picked up our tools and began the 1,700-foot descent from our main worksite.

During the 2 1/2-mile walk to base camp we looked at all the group had accomplished in just four days of work. In addition to the major re-route, volunteers had trimmed back branches, sawed through fallen trees to remove them from the trail, and built a solid stone staircase up a steep incline.

The last day we celebrated with one final excursion into the tundra and up talus peaks. On the way home, we bounced down the mossy hillside, clouds began to dissipate and we caught a glimpse of Skilak Lake 2,500 feet below. Everyone fell asleep for the last time on the beautiful beach that had been their home for the week, closing their eyes against the bright Alaskan night. Although it was only a week together, the experience of working so hard and living together in such a remote place built friendships and memories of Kenai National Wildlife Refuge that each volunteer will have with them for years to come.

Each year more and more volunteers have been able to get involved at the Refuge and much of what we accomplish relies on their work. Whether it is a week-long service project on our trails or a summer-long commitment as a campground host or visitor services intern, volunteers continuously make lasting contributions to the Refuge, and they take with them a meaningful experience to share with their friends and family when they leave.

More information about the Wilderness Volunteers program can be found at

Ciara Johnson is a Seasonal Park Ranger at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge responsible for facilitating resource conservation projects for volunteer groups.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

WV's Annual Leader Training Trip

Lizard Head Wilderness, CO (2010)

Arriving at the trailhead of an entirely new wilderness area is for me a truly invigorating thrill. After nearly eight months of preparation and anticipation (growing much more intense in the final two weeks), the moment has finally arrived. My co-leader Bill and I are leading a one-week service project to clean out existing water bars along the popular Navajo Lake Trail and install new water bars as needed. This work is recommended by our partners in the San Juan National Forest every two-three years to keep the trail properly maintained and drained .

Normally, the anticipation of a week spent tent camping in a glorious wilderness (under three of Colorado's famous 14,000 foot peaks) would be enough excitement for any outdoor enthusiast. But this trip has an added ingredient making it much more special -- this is Wilderness Volunteers' annual Leader Training Trip, where we train a new crop of trip leaders to join our corps of nearly 100 leader volunteers on service projects in years to come.

I arrive in Colorado with Maidie from Portland, OR and we load our backpacks and make the short two-mile hike to our selected camp, within ear-shot of a series of waterfalls on the West Fork of the Dolores River. Five intrepid trainees have chosen this week to learn a variety of outdoor leadership skills: organizing and purchasing food for as many as twelve volunteers, and packing it in panniers strapped to pack horses; preparing and cooking food for groups; keeping a sanitary and safe kitchen and properly hanging food to protect it from animals; teaching Leave-No-Trace principles; practicing strong communications with public land agency personnel; and, ultimately, being an effective backcountry leader. Wilderness Volunteer leaders are required to be trained in Wilderness First Aid and enjoy a series of benefits in return for their time spent planning and leading in the field.

Throughout our week on the Navajo Lake Trail we deal with intermittent rain, identify problem areas on the trail and fix them, take a day off to hike through an 11,500' pass, take many, many photographs, learn to be good leaders, and, perhaps most significantly, we make new friends and acquaintances along the way.

We're always identifying and recruiting new leaders at Wilderness Volunteers, and we're beginning the process of planning for next year's annual Leader Training trip. If you're an experienced outdoor enthusiast looking for new and rewarding challenges, contact Dave at or 801-467-4305.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Got Nature?

Great Falls National Park, VA (2010)

I'm about to begin reading Richard Louv's bestseller Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, which argues that children need nature just as much as they need their vegetables and their playgrounds and their ABCs. It's an argument we hear more and more frequently and it doesn't apply just to children, particularly in our increasingly digital world.

In fact, there's a growing field of research into the effects of technology on our brains - on how technology affects the way we think and act - with special attention paid to the role nature might play in reversing those effects. In today's New York Times, Matt Richtel writes about a study undertaken by a group of neuroscientists who set out to explore this relationship during a week-long rafting trip on the San Juan River in Utah's Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

WV in the News

It's been a busy couple weeks for Wilderness Volunteers, with six trips completed since July 25th, including the Leader Training Trip in Colorado's Lizard Head Wilderness. Stay tuned for some photos, video, and stories from our volunteers.

A few lucky volunteers who spent a week in Colorado's Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness even made the local paper.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Better Way to Get to Work...

Tired of the same old commute to work each morning? Need to liven up your work week? Take a cue from the 2009 Denali National Park Wilderness Volunteer's work crew.

And for some great music about working in Alaska, check out David Walburn's "Cabin Song," featured on this blog last winter.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Summer Reading List

Sawtooth Nat'l Forest, ID (2007)

For those of you looking for a good outdoor adventure read, try something off this list:

1) The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind - and Almost Found Myself - on the Pacific Crest Trail by Dan White

2) Indian Creek Chronicles: A Winter Alone in the Bitterroot Wilderness by Pete Fromm

3) Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales

4) Touching the Void by Joe Simpson

5) Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

6) Undaunted Courage: Lewis and Clark and the American West by Stephen Ambrose

7) River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard

8) Rocket Boys by Homer Hickham

9) Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

10) Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

11) A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

What books do you recommend?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Wild Montana Sky

Bob Marshall Wilderness, MT (2005)

Thoreau took to the woods for inspiration, peace of mind, and creative expression. Bill Bryson took a "walk in the woods" and wrote all about it. So did Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Rachel Carson, and countless others.

And so do some of our volunteers.

Here's some poetry from one of them, which recounts an experience in Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness a few years ago.

Montana’s dusk burns slow.
Light climbs the mountain’s pines

On needle tip toes.

Over trees that sip from storms

That help spring chase summer

Across fall’s leafy floor.

Winter has its snow cap on.

Tents pop up

Like grizzly humps.

The propane tanks hiss.

Montana’s nights cool quick.

'His mother took him to her breast...'

The black flies hummed along,

And flitted like ash fleeing

Up towards promises of dawn.

Been inspired? Have something to share? Send it in.

(Bonus points to anyone that can name that tune - the one referenced in the title and the second to last stanza.)

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Invasive Species...and Kitchen Corner

Every region of the country has invasive plants that present their own particular problems. When my wife and I moved to a state in the Deep South shortly after we married, we encountered Kudzu for the first time. Kudzu was introduced from Japan into the United States in the nineteenth century and was promoted as a forage crop and an ornamental plant. In the 1930s, farmers in the southeastern United States were encouraged to plant Kudzu to reduce soil erosion. The plant wasn’t considered a pest weed until 1953, and now this invasive swallows up houses if not kept in check. Tumbleweed, the plant so associated with desolate Western landscapes in movies, is an invasive as well, probably having arrived in the United States in seed shipments. Other invasive plants such as Russian Olive and Tamarisk (salt cedar) were purposely introduced to the United States and have become severe problems along many waterways in the western part of the country. In the Northwest, we have English Ivy as well as Scotch Broom to contend with. It is probably not news that no section of the country is free from invasive plants.

Given the pervasiveness of invasives, why even discuss them here? Although most invasives will never be eradicated from environments where they can thrive and crowd out native plants, we can do things to lessen their spread to sensitive areas. Wilderness Volunteers participants join our 50 or so trips each year and come from all over the country to do so. Unwittingly, many of these well-meaning participants may be helping spread invasives or introducing plants from their region of the country into regions where these plants are unknown. The most common way this happens is through seed dispersal, and we humans often become the vehicles for this dispersal.

What can you do as an individual? The simplest thing you can do is check your boots before leaving home for that camping or backpacking trip and make sure the soles are clean. Do the same just prior to leaving your camping/backpacking location to return home. Check your clothing as well. Many seeds can easily attach themselves to clothing or even get into pockets. If you can’t effectively clean your boots and clothing prior to heading home after a trip and have to wait until you get home to do so, there are still ways to prevent seeds from potentially germinating in a new environment. Clean boots and clothing somewhere where the soil and plant matter can be contained; then soak the plant matter in bleach before disposing of it. As volunteers who often enter sensitive wilderness areas, we don’t want to be unsuspecting agents who introduce non-native plants to an area whether it be that wilderness area or our own home territory. Below are some links to sites with more detailed information.

Olive oil
2 cups crushed tomatoes with added puree
4 garlic cloves
3-4 tablespoons fresh or dried rosemary
8 cups vegetable broth (use 4 Knorr Vegetarian Bouillon cubes in water)
4 15-16 oz. cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
12 oz. Fettuccine in one inch pieces
Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in large pan. Add tomatoes, garlic, and rosemary. Simmer 5 minutes. Add broth and garbanzo beans and stir to blend. Bring to boil and add the fettuccine. Simmer until pasta is tender. Season with salt and pepper. Add parmesan separately.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Some Photography Tips for the Field

John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, CA (2006)

Fresh on the heels of the 2010 WV Photo Contest seems as good a time as any to talk photography - especially as the 2010 trip season kicks into high gear.

As we get closer and closer to the trailhead and run down our packing list, gather up the "ten essentials" and sort out what to take and what to jettison, we each invariably head into the backcountry with that "other essential": a camera. You won't find it listed in any survival handbooks, but few of us - including myself - will leave home without it.

With that in mind, and as I myself prepare to head to Idaho's Selway Bitterroot Wilderness next month, here are a few tips to set up your digital camera for optimal field use and maximum battery life - an ever-so precious resource when you're miles from the nearest electrical outlet.

1) Turn Off Auto ISO - ISO 1600 on a sunny day? Not a chance, but it can happen - a camera's metering system is no substitute for the human eye. To maximize image quality, give yourself control over the ISO. While many cameras do a good job across a range of ISO settings, the camera's metering system isn't foolproof and may choose a higher ISO setting when a lower ISO would suffice, sacrificing image quality in the process.

2) Turn Off Auto Rotate - Always looking at your LCD to review your last picture? Good - now get your money's worth. When your camera is set to auto rotate, every vertical photograph is displayed in the camera's horizontal LCD as a vertical image. What many of us fail to realize is that this forces the taller vertical image to fit in the shorter horizontal LCD. Bottom line: in an age of bigger and better LCDs, your vertical image is compressed and over half of your LCD screen is empty! Turn off auto rotate and you'll see more - and take better pictures.

3) Skip Deletions - Tempting as it may be to clean up your photographs as you take them, doing so consumes precious battery life. Fight the urge. Unless, that is, you don't mind hiking through scenic meadows, mountain vistas, and pristine wilderness with a dead camera. No doubt nothing beats the real thing, but it's always nice to have a little bit of juice left should that "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity arise. Your friends and family will appreciate it.

4) Dim the LCD Screen and Let it Sleep - Simple. The brighter it is and longer it's on, the greater the drain on the battery.

5) Conserve Your Shots - Surely one of the greatest attractions of digital photography is the ability to take countless shots without sacrificing pack weight and space. Gone are the days (at least for those of us who have made the leap from film) of carrying a dozen rolls of film into the backcountry and making each and every shot count. Of course, this can be a mixed blessing, as those of us whom have sat through our loved ones' two-hour slideshows of their day trips to the beach can attest. Make your shots count and practice your technique (click here for a quick summary of the basics of photographic composition). You'll take better pictures and ensure you've got some battery life left for that unexpected sunset, wildlife encounter, and, best of all, that group photo at the end of the week.

6) Pack an Extra Battery - Genius! You might also consider a solar charger for your camera battery. I don't have any experience with these but they sound promising (though certainly a bit pricier than a spare).

Above all else: have fun and experiment.

Got a tip to share? Send it in.

And in the meantime, check out the newly redesigned WV Photo Gallery, which is a great resource for exploring different projects and trip locations.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

And the Winners Are...

Thanks to everyone who participated in the 2nd Annual Wilderness Volunteers Photo Contest! We received nearly thirty entries and had our work cut out for us picking the winners from the artistic, clever, and downright fun photos. Alas, after much debate, the winners are...

1st Place: Eric Mak

"Extreme Hikers on the AT"
Mount Rogers Nat'l Recreation Area, VA (2009)

2nd Place: Caroline Williams

"The Convincer"
- Hammond Canyon, UT (2010)

3rd Place: Maidie Kenney

"Jane Demonstrating the Fine Art of the Prickly Pear Toss"
- Superstition Wilderness, AZ (2010)

Honorable Mention: Nike Bolte

"The Perfect Way to End the Day"
- Caladesi Island, FL (2010)

Congratulations! 1st place wins a newly-issued WV hooded sweatshirt, 2nd place a WV Klean Kanteen, and 3rd place a WV baseball cap. Please email your mailing address to Mike and we'll get your prize in the mail.

Thanks again to all our participants!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Crop Mob, Anyone?

Here's a neat article about a burgeoning nationwide movement involving volunteers, hard work, the great outdoors, "giving something back," the environment, and good food. Sound familiar?

You'd think we're talking about Wilderness Volunteers, but we're not. Though the ingredients are the same, the recipe is a little different. Read more about "Crop Mobbing" here.

Kinda like Wilderness Volunteers. . .but on a farm.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Get Outside for National Trails Day

Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, CO (2008)

This Saturday June 5th is National Trails Day, a nationwide event dedicated to increasing our awareness, understanding, and enjoyment of - you guessed it - trails.

Organized by the American Hiking Society, the day celebrates America's +200,000 mile trail network, recognizes the volunteers and organizations that develop and maintain this vast system, and seeks to inspire and encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to get outside and explore the great outdoors. Now in its 18th year, National Trails Day is celebrated in all fifty states by thousands of people, and hundreds of events - including hikes, bike rides, site dedications, trail work, gear demos, horseback rides, photography clinics, educational workshops, and canoe and kayak trips - are held across the country each year.

To learn more about National Trails Day and search for events in your area, check out the American Hiking Society's helpful guide here.

Between hikes in New York City and dog walks in New Jersey, horseback rides in Utah and birding tours in Minnesota, trail work in Oregon and orienteering workshops in Florida, there is something for everyone - everywhere! So pack a lunch, grab a friend, and go exploring.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

2 Weeks and Counting

"Extreme Hikers on the AT" - Mt. Rogers NRA, VA (2009)

There's just under two weeks left in the 2nd annual Wilderness Volunteers photo contest and we've received some great submissions (see them here). There's still time left to rummage through your photos and send us your best shots of folks working, hiking, hanging out, inventing "trail zambonis" - you name it.

Submit up to four photos from any WV trips you've participated in, and include the name and date of the project, as well as a brief caption describing the photo (humor appreciated :). Email your entries to Mike Leonard.

"The Showdown" - Gila National Forest, NM (2000)

Prizes will be awarded for the top three submissions (maximum of one prize per entrant). First place wins a newly-issued WV hooded sweatshirt, second place a WV Klean Kanteen, and third place a WV baseball cap. The contest runs until May 30th.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Kitchen Corner

Many of us who lead backcountry service trips like to serve as many meals with fresh ingredients as possible, but preserving fresh ingredients poses challenges. Those challenges can vary depending on the area where the group is working, the agency the group is working with, and whether or not the agency offers pack support. Even if the agency does offer pack support, what the packers are willing to carry in and what type of panniers they use can be factors in fresh food storage. I’ve worked with horse and mule packers in several areas (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, California, Texas, and Colorado). Some packers work directly for the agency, others are volunteers, and some are independent packers who have contracts with the agency. The pack equipment the different packers have varies widely, so if I am working with an agency for the first time I always ask what type of panniers the packers use. If I can speak directly to the packer, that is even better for me. Once I have determined what type of packing equipment the packers have, I can plan accordingly.

The best backcountry cold storage system I have used is provided on the Sawtooth Wilderness trip in central Idaho. Working with this agency is the ideal situation because the packer, Deb Peters, is a Forest Service employee and she also remains with the group and works on our projects with us. For cold storage, Deb provides two large canvas and metal panniers that have removable form insulation on the inside. Two or three blocks of ice fit easily on the bottom of each pannier, and we put cardboard on top of the ice. We then place food on top of the ice/cardboard base. As the ice melts, the water drains out the bottom of the pannier. Ice generally lasts for five to six days, so I feel pretty safe in taking a variety of fresh ingredients with the above system. If an agency does not provide something such as I have described above, I always ask if the packer would be willing to haul in a small ice chest. No packer has ever refused this request. I use the same packing system as described above (block ice on bottom, cardboard, then food), and I make sure to drain the water from the ice chest at least twice a day.

Here’s a recipe using lots of fresh ingredients. I also pre-clean and chop all the veggies in order to save myself time in camp, and I pack fragile veggies such as spinach in hard plastic containers.

Vegetable and Soba Noodle Bowl for Twelve

20 oz soba noodles
4 tablespoons sesame oil
3 red peppers, sliced
1 pkg dried mushrooms, reconstituted
½ cup fresh ginger, minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 yellow squash, sliced
2 pkgs. snow pea pods
6 tablespoons soy sauce
3 cups vegetable broth (use 2 veggie cubes)
4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
4 green onions, sliced
1 bunch cilantro

Cook noodles al dente. Heat sesame oil with other oil and sauté bell peppers, mushrooms, ginger, and garlic for about 4 minutes. Add squash, soy sauce, broth, and vinegar, and cook another 4 minutes. Stir in snow peas, cilantro, and green onions and cook until bright green. Mix with drained noodles.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mama Knows Best

I was traveling through New Mexico this week and caught this on the evening news. Needless to say, I feel compelled to share.

Think she's got impressive moves? Check out her competition, featured on this blog last spring.