Day in the life of SJMA volunteer trail ambassador

/ / Stewardship, volunteers

A group of eight people walked up to us from the parking lot – kids and parents – with a small backpacks, wearing tennis shoes and holding a couple plastic water bottles. “Welcome to Ice Lake trailhead!” I called out, letting them know we’re here to help. Chatting with the group, we learned they were from out of town, here on a 5 day trip. Their dream was to see an alpine lake – ideally Ice Lake and Island Lake. They had seen photos of the blue water, the fields of wildflowers, and snowy mountain peaks. They were excited to hike but didn’t know it’s a steep 3.5 miles uphill with almost 2500 feet of elevation gain before seeing blue water. “That sounds hard!” said one of the kids. We agreed.

We made sure they knew how much water to bring (at least 2 liters per person), the potential rain in the afternoon forecast, and how to protect Ice Lake from human impacts (pack out your trash, stay on the trail, and give wildlife plenty of space). In 15 minutes, the families were heading out on the trail with big smiles – prepared with some additional water, snacks and rain jackets packed into their bags.

This is a glimpse into a typical Saturday morning in July around 9 a.m., for San Juan Mountains Association volunteer trail ambassadors who sign up for a shift at Ice Lake trailhead near Silverton. Standing at the SJMA tent at the trailhead, an SJMA volunteer and I spent the day sharing information about Ice Lake trail and how to responsibly recreate in this fragile alpine environment. Later, a volunteer climbed the trail to chat with visitors at the lake, answering questions, guiding backpackers to durable camping spots and advising hikers to get off the ridge by midafternoon as the threat of afternoon monsoons grew.

Working in partnership with the San Juan National Forest and other federal land management agencies, our SJMA volunteer trail ambassadors are often the first line of contact at popular places like Ice Lake trail, Blue Lakes trail, Chicago Basin, and more. As these places keep getting more attention, more people will keep coming to the San Juans to see our beautiful landscapes every year!

With support from you, our community, as volunteers and SJMA members, we are able to protect these places by sharing helpful and friendly information about how to recreate responsibly and leave no trace.

If you’d like to be a part of this effort to protect our iconic locations, join our volunteer community by signing up at to become a volunteer trail ambassador this summer! Or reach out to me directly with questions or ideas at

Marly Saunders is the Volunteer Coordinator for San Juan Mountains Association and is excited to see you out on the trails this summer!