Stewardship programs throughout the San Juans

/ / Stewardship

By Mike Wight, Associate Director

As the rivers continue to carry our snowmelt downstream, and the high country begins to open up, I’m finally getting a second to reflect on a busy couple of months hiring, training, and preparing for SJMA’s stewardship programs. This year represents continued growth and expansion of our programs, coupled with increased training and capacity for field programs with both seasonal staff and volunteers!

We hope you caught last month’s update on volunteer opportunities, written by Marly Saunders, SJMA’s Volunteer Coordinator, who has been busy training and connecting with volunteers to promote stewardship at Chicago Basin, Ice Lakes, Blue Lakes, naturalist interpretive events, and solitude monitoring in the Weminuche Wilderness. If you haven’t already, check out to view the array of events on our calendar and to sign up to volunteer!

In April, we brought on Meg Burke, our two year alumni Forest Ambassador, as our Stewardship Program Manager. She wasted no time interviewing and selecting a rocking team of ten Forest Ambassadors, and four Wilderness Stewardship Crew Members. We kicked off a two week training for seasonal staff on May 15th, providing CPR, Wilderness First Aid, a session from the Leave No Trace traveling team, and a multitude of guest speakers from the San Juan National Forest (thank you!) to cover topics including recreation management, wildfire safety, public  engagement, trail maintenance, and area collaboratives Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative and the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program. Special thanks to Regina Whiteskunk who spent a few hours with our team discussing the cultural history and context of the region!

On May 30th, our Wilderness Stewardship Crew began clearing trails on the east side of the Weminuche in collaboration with Rio Grande National Forest staff- covering 15 miles of trail and clearing 132 logs in their first three days! On June 2nd, our North and South teams of Forest Ambassadors began covering area trails and events across the San Juans. Our crew will rotate between more than 35 trails and trailheads providing public education and information on Leave No Trace, wildfire safety, responsible recreation, and forest restoration projects, while completing trail maintenance and clean up activities. SJMA’s “southern team” will rotate between low-country trails such as Purgatory Flats, Chicken Creek, Boggy Draw, Pine River, Vallecito, Junction Creek and as the snow melts, they’ll be stationed at Ice Lakes, Andrews Lake, Cross Mountain, Navajo Lake, Highland Mary Lakes, and more. Thanks to support from the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forest, we’ve expanded SJMA’s Forest Ambassadors on the northern side of the San Juans. Not only will they be stationed at Blue Lakes, but they will also be at access points to Sneffels, Uncompahgre, and Lizard Head Wilderness areas, the forks of the Cimarrons, and Woods Lake, as well as Silverton area trails and Animas Forks. If you’d like to know more about what our Forest Ambassadors are doing, just ask them when you see them, or better yet, sign up for SJMA’s June 13th or 14th volunteer ambassador trainings for Ice Lakes, Blue Lakes or an upcoming fire ring clean-up project in the Cimarons on June 23d and 24th in partnership with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and the Ouray Ranger District ( Wherever you recreate this season, please remember to follow Leave No Trace Principles, and drown any campfires, perhaps kindly reminding others to do so as well. Together, we can protect our beloved San Juan region for future generations!