By Julia Ledford, SJMA Forest Ambassador
I know what it’s like when the crowds find your secret spot. I’ve known waterfalls and powder stashes and pristine lakes that I could once visit without seeing another soul. But now, the secret is out. I’ve also been the one to stumble upon someone else’s special place and disrupt their solitude. Most likely, so have you.
I’ve known people that complain more about other people on the trail than they appreciate what’s around them, and I’d be lying if I said I’ve never fallen into the same trap. Let’s be honest, passing hordes of other hikers and hearing dogs barking or seeing toilet paper in the woods isn’t what we imagine for an ideal day in the mountains.
Being a Forest Ambassador has changed my perspective. I spend my days hiking in the places that many locals say have been “ruined” by mountain bikers or the sheer number of visitors. My job is to deliberately engage with all of these people with the goal of reducing our collective impact on the landscape. I have learned what an honor it is to share these incredible places with others, and to appreciate watching so many people smile at the same things that make me smile. Instead of rolling my eyes at the group of nine hikers approaching me on the trail, I welcome them to this breathtaking meadow of wildflowers and educate them on how to keep it that way. Together, we share the joy of being surrounded by such magnificence, and almost always, we learn something from each other. After all, understanding these places is the first step to protecting them.
The truth is, your secret spot won’t be yours forever. People will continue coming to the San Juans, so welcome them, enjoy every second of it, and of course, Leave No Trace.