By MK Gunn
Those of you in the community who know me can easily understand that I would not be who I am without Wilderness. Wilderness – with a capital W – has allowed me days upon days of reinvigorating solitude. Here, the only sounds are those of Mother Nature. They are the wind blowing the leaves and grasses and howling through rock corridors. They are the wild animals such as the pikas squeaking, elk bugling, and coyotes howling. They are the flowing water – anything from the tiniest trickle to the roar of whitewater rapids and waterfalls. And sometimes the sound is that of nothing at all. These sounds are grounding, calming, inspiring, magical, invigorating, wild, and can bolster even the most destitute of spirits. And that’s just the sounds. There’s also the sights, smells, feelings, and tastes of the wilderness.
These experiences are more likely to be had in congressionally designated Wilderness areas where nothing mechanized or motorized is allowed. Sure, planes still fly overhead but outside of that, the sounds, sights, smells, feelings, and tastes are all natural.
Edward Abbey wrote that “Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit” and “We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope”. I agree wholeheartedly yet not everyone understands these sentiments. Microsoft spell check defines wilderness as “wasteland; desert”. However, you don’t always have to understand someone in order to support their needs.
Wilderness visitation is on the rise and many of those who venture into Wilderness areas don’t know how to responsibly visit the backcountry. Not everyone has read the Wilderness Act or Edward Abbey. While some of these Wilderness newbies may find a new appreciation for land stewardship, unfortunately, irresponsible trail users often leave behind litter, braided trails, fire
scars, marred trees, and trampled vegetation. But please, don’t lose hope.
The San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA) is pleased to announce the Weminuche Wilderness Stewardship Fund. Those of you who read my July column may recall that one definition of “stewardship” is “the responsible overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving.” Since 1988, SJMA has been committed to promoting “responsible care of natural and cultural resources through education and hands-on involvement that inspires respect and reverence for our lands”. As visitor use increases, we want to make sure that these visitors understand how much care and support our lands need in this day and age.
The Weminuche Wilderness is Colorado’s largest wilderness area with almost 500,000 acres of conifer forests, wild trout streams, and jagged peaks. As the headwaters of the Rio Grande and San Juan Rivers, the Weminuche provides drinking water to millions of downstream residents on both sides of the Continental Divide. The Weminuche Wilderness Stewardship Fund will provide crucial funding to help mitigate the following challenges:
- Beetle infestations and severe avalanches have led to countless fallen trees that affect
the ecosystem and limit trail access
- Growing crowds are leaving human waste, contaminating key watersheds, and causing
- There are currently no full-time rangers working in the Weminuche Wilderness on the
San Juan National Forest due to budget cuts
The fund directly supports SJMA’s efforts to implement on-the-ground stewardship projects, improve trail access, coordinate and equip volunteer rangers that will engage in stewardship projects and educate visitors on proper backcountry practices and educate the public on Leave No Trace ethics.
Are you wondering how you can help? Well, the easiest way would be to attend the San Juan Mountain Jam and silent auction on October 17. Enjoy local bluegrass bands while investing in new goodies to treat yourself or your loved ones. You can also become a volunteer or sign up to make monthly donations. Visit sjma.org for more information.
The work completed as a result of the fund will be just a portion of what SJMA does to steward public lands, but it is all of equal importance in the overall goal of protecting public lands and educating people on how to do their part to make sure our spectacular public lands can be equally enjoyed by future generations. There’s a lot of work to be done but if we lose hope or energy, we can always recharge our batteries by escaping into the Wilderness and then come back to keep on working. In the words of Ed Abbey, I leave you with this: “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”
MK Gunn is the Volunteer and Education Specialist for SJMA. She frequently loses herself in Wilderness in order to find herself. Reach her at MK@sjma.org.