By SJMA Forest Ambassador, Jojo Matson
Alpine tundra ecosystem services
May you be mindful that the alpine tundra is an incredibly special place for our entire ecosystem near and far. Everything underneath your feet is alive. The tundra ecosystem acts as a giant and delicate sponge created by a network of roots reaching up to two feet deep. This sponge holds our snowpack through the winter and reduces avalanche potential. It holds our soils together allowing moisture from snowmelt and spring monsoon storms to absorb into the ground instead of running off or triggering a mudslide. What most of you might notice are the abundant flower varieties that feed large populations of pollinators and herbaceous animals.
Every impact to that delicate sponge compresses the network of roots. The more compressed it becomes, the less effective it is at holding the ecosystem together. Look along the trail on the edges of the footpath and see how far it has compressed from the surrounding soil from feet and tires. Notice areas of increased water flow in the trail and the rapid erosion that takes place within a short amount of time. Once the erosion begins, it is very hard to stop on its own and is amplified and widened when we try to avoid the impacted areas. At some point, the impact might be irreversible, and the trail will become a large gully for water runoff.
May you be mindful where your feet, your furry friend’s feet, or your tires go today.
Alpine tundra, visitors in an ecosystem homestead
May you be mindful that the alpine tundra is a unique and diverse ecosystem that supports lifeforms near and far in an incredible balanced network of traveling and permanent dwellers. Some of these neighborhoods are confined to the tops of our mountains and are bound by the environmental boundaries of elevation, temperature, and water. This neighborhood is a collection of specialized flowers and plants and the specialized creatures that eat them. One you may be familiar with is the pika, a small and adorable furry creature that greets you as you enter the high country with loud chirps. The pika is very special because it can only survive in our high cool mountaintops. They cannot withstand temperature above 77 degrees F. They also do not sleep the winter away but survive awake underneath the snowpack. It spends all summer collecting, drying, and storing plants in stashed piles underneath rocks all over the tundra. Their knowledge of each plant’s necessary drying and storage time is miraculous. All the while, they spread seeds and propagate the environment they need to survive in the next year. They are as brilliant as they are adorable.
When you visit the tundra, you will notice there are not many places to hide. A few boulders, scree rock slopes, and valleys of flowers. The pikas have storage stacks that are in safe regions for them to use later. When our feet or out furry friend’s feet go near or invade the storage areas, it can lead to the pika getting hurt or stopping collection of food at that location.
May you be mindful while you visit the tundra where your feet and your furry friend’s feet go. We are there for a short time, and the pika calls it home.
The heartstrings for the trees
May you be mindful that the San Juan Forest is a uniquely biodiverse ecosystem ranging from a dry desert range to the high alpine mountaintops. Everything under your feet is alive including the streams, soils, and the network of mycorrhizal and root systems holding the soils together. Every change in elevation and moisture creates a specialized ecosystem composition that is as unique as a fingerprint to anywhere else.
Notice the changes to the areas that have seen impacts from repeated use to the areas that have been left untouched. Notice what life does or does not survive underfoot. See that the giant roots that grow across the trail are the heart strings for the beautiful trees that stretch above you. Their roots are not deep, they spread wide as they grip to the side of a mountain. These trees are already taxed from impacts of smoky air, insect infestations, and rising temperatures all while they do the important job of stabilizing our mountains and cleaning our air.
May you be mindful of those heart strings while you are out underneath their canopy.
By Ana Siegel, SJMA Wilderness Crew Member
For the last two months, my office has been the burn zones, alpine vistas, cow-filled meadows, and log-strewn trails of the Weminuche Wilderness. As a member of the San Juan Mountains Association’s Wilderness Crew, I have the privilege of spending my work week immersing myself in, and helping to protect, this beautiful and unique landscape.
To understand the work we do, it is necessary to grasp the goals of the 1964 Wilderness Act: “Wilderness should be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness, and so as to provide for the protection of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character, and for the gathering and dissemination of information regarding their use and enjoyment as wilderness.”
Our aim as the Wilderness Crew is to facilitate the balance between easing visitor access to and enjoyment of this land, while protecting both the landscape and its character. Depending on the week, our focus is on either trail work or campsite monitoring. Most recently, we cleared a trail in the Rio Grande National Forest–using only non-mechanized tools, like crosscut and hand saws–allowing for easier foot and stock access to an alpine lake. Other weeks, we hike remote trails, collecting data on already-existing or new campsites, dispersing illegal campsites, and carrying out as much trash as we can fit in our packs. On the first hitch of our season, we carried out nearly 85lb of trash and abandoned supplies.
Most significant to me, is the way that these weeks in the field have deepened my own understanding of wilderness character. This week, two of our work days were cut short due to dangerous weather conditions; lightning strikes with almost immediate thunder claps prompted us to decide to return to lower ground and wait out the storm in our camp. Waiting for the storm to pass in my tent, I felt humbled by the power of this place and the lack of power that we have as visitors in wilderness. I think that reaches the crux of wilderness character: that feeling of ceding control, entering an environment where you are humbled by both the power and the beauty of the natural world, “untrammeled by man,” as the Act puts it.
As our crew experiences on a daily basis, this wilderness character does not always make our lives easy: it’s that feeling of willingly putting yourself in the position of being cold, wet, sore, and daydreaming about that piece of pizza you’re going to eat the very second you get back to town, while simultaneously being in awe of the place you’re in. Wilderness character is the now-infrequent experience of being at the whim of the natural world. In a society where we have predominantly controlled our environments for our own use, safety, and enjoyment, it is a welcome-challenge–refreshing, even–to relinquish that control.
The efforts of our Wilderness Crew to both improve access to and protect the Weminuche Wilderness ultimately contribute to the protection of this character. It’s a fine line to walk: visitors must travel with care in order to protect the landscape. But, I hope that the work we are doing allows future visitors the opportunity to experience the joy, challenge, and resulting empowerment that I have experienced during my time working here in the Weminuche.
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.
By Cassidy Storey
As warm weather and a public eager to get outside returned to the San Juans this summer, Forest Ambassadors hit the trails representing San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA) and the San Juan National Forest (SJNF) in a new stewardship outreach program.
In response to the increased number of visitors to trails, campsites, and popular recreation areas, SJMA launched a crew of skilled and passionate Forest Ambassadors to make public contacts, conduct routine trail maintenance, identify land management issues, implement volunteer stewardship projects, and conduct environmental monitoring. With support from the Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative and Great Outdoors Colorado, SJMA’s Forest Ambassadors have increased the number of “boots on the ground” during the busiest months of the year helping to protect some of Southwest Colorado’s most treasured public lands.
Forest Ambassadors spend each week maintaining trails, educating the public on “Leave No Trace” principles, and connecting with people in America’s public lands, the only wildlands most of us will ever own. In the last two months, Ambassadors have connected with over 3,000 public land users , rehabilitated more than 100 campfire rings, helped with several outreach events, and created a friendly, knowledgeable presence for visitors that did not exist before.
The new Ambassadors have some interesting stories to tell. As a team, the crew aided Search and Rescue operations, helped injured and lost hikers, identified an undetonated avalanche bomb, removed dozens of pounds of trash, photographed stunning scenes in the high country, and provided hands-on experience that can help inform future outreach efforts.
In early June, while heading back to the trailhead after a productive day on Ophir Pass, one of SMJA’s Forest Ambassadors encountered the Search and Rescue team beginning an evacuation operation. Search and Rescue informed him they had been called by a group of runners with an injured member. Though it was near the end of the day, he offered to help, and they gladly accepted. The runner had tumbled down a steep slope while traveling in the snow and landed off trail with a dislocated shoulder. Emergency medical technicians were able to put the man’s shoulder back in place so he could walk back to the road, but the Forest Ambassador was there to help. This was only the first of several instances so far in which Ambassadors were in the right place at the right time and able to lend their skills and experience to help someone in the San Juans.
Ambassadors have also focused extensively on educating new and returning visitors on “Leave No Trace” principles, a set of ethics promoting conservation in the outdoors. In the SJNF, that means preparing for changing weather, packing out all trash and waste, leaving wildflowers for others to enjoy, keeping sensitive high alpine ecosystems healthy by staying on trails, respecting wildlife by not feeding them and keeping dogs under control, and minimizing campfire impacts which includes following current fire restrictions. As a team, the Forest Ambassadors have shared these ways to “Leave No Trace” with a variety of recreationists from fly fishermen to backpackers.
The SJMA Forest Ambassadors will be hard at work throughout the summer promoting conservation of the San Juan Mountains. They look forward to seeing you out on the trails and are always delighted to tell you more about their work and how you too can act as a responsible steward of your public lands.
Author: Cassidy Storey, Forest Ambassador Field Manager. Cassidy grew up in Colorado and is a recent graduate of Colorado State University passionate about using science to connect people to the outdoors.
By Stephanie Weber
San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA) is comprised of an amazing team of people working on issues involving access to our public lands through education and outreach. Over the past year, the SJMA team has worked diligently and creatively to find solutions to numerous challenges brought about by COVID-19. In our monthly “Stewards of the Lands” column, we have repeatedly mentioned the challenges brought about by explosive growth in public lands use in 2020. With summer just around the corner, SJMA has stepped up our education and outreach efforts significantly in partnership with federal and local agencies, Silverton, and Visit Durango.
If you read last month’s column by David Taft, you learned about our “Forest Ambassadors.” The fact is SJMA is in the process of tripling our staff for the summer to nearly 50 people dedicated to educating young and old about the wonders of our natural world and responsible recreation.
Through the financial support of the San Juan and Rio Grande National Forests, Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), and the many of you who are SJMA members or supporters of “Wild for the Weminuche,” we have hired nearly 20 Ambassadors who will be stationed at more than a dozen recreational hotspots, the Silverton Visitor Center, and the Durango Welcome Center as well as a six-person crew dedicated to the Weminuche Wilderness. Summer camp counselors will join our education team to instill a love and respect for public lands in youth through summer camp adventures. We will also have Visitor Information Specialists working at forest service offices across Southwest Colorado who aim to provide you with current information on backcountry access as well as equip you with resources to plan your adventure.
There has been one other notable staff change at SJMA: after boldly leading SJMA for more than three years, Brent Schoradt has stepped down to return to practicing law. Having worked alongside Brent after the merger between Durango Nature Studies and SJMA, I have been selected by the SJMA Board of Directors as the next executive director of SJMA. As a native Coloradan who spent my teen years in Durango and the San Juan Mountains, I am honored to step into this role and lead SJMA forward. But here’s the thing: it’s everyone’s job to make sure we are doing our part to leave our beloved public lands better than we found them.
All of this is important to keep in mind as we come upon the 6th Annual Colorado Public Lands Day on May 15. SJMA is a partner in hosting two events on Public Lands Day and invite all to attend:
- SJMA and the Dolores Watershed Resilient Forest Collaborative will have an educational mountain bike ride through Boggy Draw from 10:00am to 1:00pm. Learn some of the common plants, how these forests are adapted to wildfire, about the goals and effects of management activities like prescribed fire and thinning, and about the large-scale efforts underway to protect and restore these forests. Meet at the Main Boggy Draw Trailhead.
- In light of the ever present need to keep trails clear and accessible across our mountains,SJMA volunteer and retired Wilderness Ranger Anne Dal Vera will be hosting a crosscut saw training. Check out more information on the USFS Crosscut Saw Program. Or contact Anne Dal Vera at email@example.com.
SJMA has a number of opportunities for you to engage with us in our efforts to protect the public lands we all enjoy, both paid and volunteer. Take a look at the “Get Involved” tab on our sjma.org website or feel free to contact me anytime. I look forward to working with you during these unprecedented times of growth and change.
By David Taft
From the soaring amphitheater of Ouray, to the turquoise lakes of Silverton, to the red rock canyons of Mesa Verde, it was absolutely unmistakable that last year was unlike any before it. The overwhelmed parking lots, trash strewn trails, and overcapacity camping areas were impossible to miss. Everyone acknowledged that something needed to be done to manage the ballooning growth in visitors on Southwest Colorado’s public lands. If you ask a land manager what the best solution is to improving the situation, invariably they will respond “more boots on the ground”. We need more people to clean up the mess, educate visitors on how to reduce their impact, and ensure that the increased visitation doesn’t harm both the landscape and experience of other visitors. Thanks to our members’ support, an innovative grant from GOCO, collaboration with Mountain Studies Institute and our great agency partners, and a bit of creative thinking, we will be doing exactly that this summer at San Juan Mountains Association.
Starting in May, we will dispatch a crew Forest Ambassadors into the field each day to cover the busiest trails in our region. These Ambassadors will cover a huge swath of public land, ranging from the lofty heights of Lizard Head Pass, to the forested trails of Boggy Draw and Vallecito, to the wildly popular high country peaks around Silverton. The ambassadors will greet hikers at trailheads, alert visitors to fire restrictions, educate them about how to responsibly visit sensitive alpine environments, keep trails in top shape as they go on patrol, and monitor conditions so we can better manage these exceptional places. Furthermore, the ambassadors will team up with volunteers who will amplify the positive impact of this program. This program will provide a perfect opportunity for new volunteers to gain some experience with a land management professional in the field, or for a veteran volunteer to enjoy some quality time sharing their knowledge of a place they love. These volunteers will accompany ambassadors to patrol trails, track visitor numbers at trailheads, and help keep our favorite recreation spots beautiful.
This Forest Ambassador program will dramatically increase the presence of staff on the land in the San Juan National Forest, and establishes a model for private public partnership that agencies, nonprofits, volunteers, and local businesses can all get behind. We encourage you to get out with an ambassador this summer, see what they’re up to, and give them a hand in their daily mission to keep the San Juans beautiful. We all acknowledge the exceptional value of spending time in the outdoors, and want to encourage everyone to enjoy the health and emotional benefits of visiting public land. With this program, we will ensure that we can all enjoy the benefits of time spent outdoors without harming the place, wildlife, or future visitors’ experience.
By David Taft, Conservation Director
It needs no saying that 2020 was a radical departure from normal, and it’s becoming quite clear that it left its mark on our nation’s most iconic public lands. Countless trails and recreation areas saw visitation increases in the 100-300% range, putting an average Tuesday in 2020 on par with the 4th of July week in previous years. Due to this influx, issues including habitat degradation, social trail creation, and massive increases in human waste challenged our public lands and the people who manage them. As we turn the page into a new year it is time to rethink how we tackle challenges to public lands and channel our energy into protecting the places that need it most.
Traditional hot spots were figuratively (and in some cases literally) burned to the ground last summer., San Juan Mountains Association has plans to turn that around by doubling down on our efforts at Ice Lake, Chicago Basin, the Colorado Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. All of these areas are in desperate need of public outreach presence, trail rehabilitation, erosion management, and a laundry list of other issues. We will do this by expanding our volunteer activities, offering public trainings such as crosscut sawing and outreach, increasing our seasonal staff presence, and growing our partnerships with other organizations.
SJMA also plans to reboot all our educational activities to further enhance and deepen our community’s relationship with the mountains and valleys we call home. Our expert staff and volunteers will lead interpretive sessions because we believe understanding these places is the best way to inspire visitors to become good stewards of the land.. We encourage everyone to take a day or two out of their summer to learn about the wildlife, flora, and geology of our mountains.
At SJMA, we are encouraged that so many Americans used the great outdoors as a coping mechanism for the hardships of 2020, because the outdoors should be open to all. But along with this trend we must have a corresponding increase in voluntarism and public support for these places. So take a stand this year by giving back to the places you love. Sign up for one of SJMA’s volunteer days, take a training to learn about trail maintenance, volunteer to lead or join a naturalist hike for visitors to the area, or simply pick up trash and be a resource to those needing direction. There is little indication that user numbers will drop back to pre-pandemic levels, so we will all need to contribute in our own ways to ensure the San Juans remain healthy and vibrant.
December 13, 2020 by Brent Schoradt
This year, getting outside became a lifeline for Americans of all stripes, and our public lands became more popular than ever.
For me, a long hike anywhere on our public lands is the one activity that brings a sense of normalcy to my daily and weekly routines. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve all been reminded how important our forests and public lands are to our personal well-being, both physically and spiritually. Here in Southwest Colorado, we’re lucky to enjoy relatively easy access to millions of acres of public lands.
Unfortunately, a recent surge in visitors to our public lands has come at a cost. Many forest visitors are not aware of best practices and aren’t accustomed to visiting areas without bathrooms or trash facilities. As a result, human waste, toilet paper, trash and graffiti have become an increasingly common site at some of our most beloved local places. That’s why San Juan Mountains Association has stepped up its efforts to care for our local public lands.
Since its founding in 1988, SJMA has been committed to cleaning up and caring for our most treasured public lands, such as the Weminuche Wilderness and Ice Lakes Basin. This summer, SJMA volunteers made an immense difference by posting up at our Ice Lakes Educational Basecamp to educate hikers about how to responsibly visit the area.
All told, these local volunteers contributed 475 hours to contact 9,200 hikers and remove hundreds of pounds of trash while providing “wag bags” and dog poop bags to encourage folks to pack out their own waste. During one encounter in August, SJMA volunteers found an abandoned campfire that was quickly extinguished, potentially avoiding a peak season wildfire in Ice Lakes Basin.
After all these efforts, we were devastated to see the Ice Fire occur in late October, just a few weeks after SJMA’s Educational Basecamp was taken down for the year, when the area has normally received at least some initial snowfall. We know our efforts make a difference for the landscape, and we are eager to help facilitate the area’s recovery from the fire and this unprecedented busy season.
Because of local donations to SJMA’s newly formed Weminuche Wilderness Stewardship Fund, SJMA was able to improve conditions on the ground in 2020 and achieve these outcomes in the Weminuche:
Partnered with Southwest Conservation Corps and the Colorado Trail Foundation to remove avalanche debris from the Colorado Trail at Elk Creek, improving access to one of Colorado’s iconic through-hikes.Naturalized 298 illegal campsites.Installed eight designated campsites at Rainbow Hot Springs, while naturalizing unsustainable sites.Removed more than 70 downed trees from the Needle Creek Trail to improve access to Chicago Basin.Packed out more than 260 pounds of trash from the wilderness.In these times of great uncertainty, SJMA recognizes that one thing is for sure: Our public lands face growing threats, from persistent drought, catastrophic wildfire, climate change and surging numbers of visitors.
In response to these mounting threats, SJMA is doubling down on its efforts to stand up for public lands by educating visitors, empowering volunteers and instilling a land conservation ethic that will stand the test of time.
We know that caring for the land and protecting our forests and watersheds are core values of Southwest Colorado, and we are committed to digging deeper and standing taller in the face of growing challenges. After 32 years, SJMA’s work is just beginning.
October 9, 2020 by David Taft
During summer 2019, our community was deeply concerned about the state of the Weminuche Wilderness.
Visitation was exploding (as it still is), avalanches the previous winter left many trails blocked or obliterated, human waste continued to be a major issue in heavy-use areas and challenges seemed to be ramping up with no end in sight.
In response to this sentiment and public outcry, San Juan Mountains Association stepped up with our Weminuche Wilderness Stewardship Fund.
Through last October’s San Juan Mountain Jam Fundraiser and countless local donors, we raised more than $40,000 toward stewardship projects in the Weminuche. We then used these community contributions as matching funds to pull in funding from the National Forest Foundation and VF Corporation, parent company of Smartwool, The North Face and Altra Running.
We are incredibly proud to report the results of the work that was accomplished thanks to your support. Despite early concerns because of COVID-19 that we would not be able to run our San Juan Wilderness Stewardship Crew, the crew of four began its season in early June and came out of the gate charging.
After a brief week of crosscut and wilderness monitoring training, the crew headed up to Chicago Basin to clear the trail and naturalize illegal campsites and campfire rings. Over the course of three days, the crew hiked 36 miles, cut 70-plus trees using 6-foot-long crosscut saws and naturalized numerous large campsites with illegal campfire rings.
This was a good warm up for the crew, which over the next 12 weeks would proceed to haul more than 250 pounds of trash from deep in the wilderness, log out the Vestal Creek Trail, naturalize almost 200 illegal campsites, saw through 90 more downed trees and spend almost 200 hours speaking with the public about wilderness regulations, Leave No Trace principles and how to visit this spectacular place with respect.
To wrap up the season, the crew headed up to Rainbow Hot Springs to clear avalanche debris and designate eight campsites to prevent hikers from camping too close to the West Fork of the San Juan River. We will maintain a reduced crew to continue with trail cleanup and hunter outreach throughout the fall.
In addition to our San Juan Stewardship Crew, with the money from National Forest Foundation we enlisted the help of a Southwest Conservation Corps crew to clear the first two avalanche debris piles blocking the Elk Creek portion of the Colorado Trail.
This was a massive undertaking, as there were about 500 trees thrown onto the trail. With additional effort from Kristina Schenck, U.S. Forest Service wilderness ranger, and Colorado Trail Foundation trail adopter Connie Wian, the first two piles have been cleared and trail usability greatly improved.
Going forward, we have some big plans to keep the momentum rolling. We will continue working with Schenck to clear the additional log piles on the Colorado Trail next year. The crew will also spend a month working on trails in the Divide area of the Weminuche, most likely the Continental Divide Trail. We also look forward to ramping up our Wilderness Volunteer Program, as we now better understand how to conduct activities despite the ongoing pandemic. As always, we encourage you to reach out if you are interested in volunteering with SJMA.
We ask everyone to join us in celebrating Weminuche Month this October. In lieu of an in-person fundraiser this year, SJMA will be selling Wild for the Weminuche hats and stickers at local retailers (see our website or social media for a full list).
Furthermore, Alpine Bank has generously offered to donate $100 for every new Environment Loyalty debit account opened during the month of October. This is a great and easy way to support Colorado’s largest wilderness.
By Harry Bellow
Oftentimes, our work leads us off trail, bushwhacking to high alpine lakes in the shadows of towering peaks. Odds are you have stumbled across our work at some point during your trips into the wilderness. Our work is often invisible unless you know what to look for: clear trails, litter-free campsites and the disappearance of illegal campsites. The life of a wilderness steward is not easy, but the rewarding nature of the work draws one into a vast array of uncomfortable situations.
Funded with donations to San Juan Mountains Association’s Weminuche Wilderness Stewardship Fund, the task of the Wilderness Stewardship Team is to preserve, protect, monitor and educate people about wilderness principles. Our office is the wilderness areas around Durango, some of the most extreme terrain in the Lower 48.
On a typical week, we arrive at the Public Lands Center at 7 a.m. with backpacks filled with four days’ worth of supplies. We gather tools and team equipment, such as radios, crosscut saws, Pulaskis and shovels. Our drive out to the wilderness can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a whopping five hours. Sometimes, it is impossible to get all the way to a trailhead as the roads can be extreme in the rugged country. Upon arrival, the team suits up and begins work.
As we enter the wilderness area, we mark down the time and begin to count people we see. The data we collect about usage goes to classify the area in terms of impact. Pristine areas are relatively untouched by humans while semi-pristine areas are impacted by constant visitor use.
While we collect this data, we are monitoring campsites as well. Led by Asia Pfiefer, wilderness monitoring lead of the San Juan National Forest, the team is given GPS coordinates of existing campsites in the area. We find all of these campsites, survey them, pick up any litter and destroy them if they are illegal or have not been used for many seasons.
Commonly, we find aluminum foil in the fire rings, toilet paper in the bushes and forgotten frying pans. Most often, campsites are found along the trails and near a water source. Camping too close to a water source, less than 100 feet, dissuades wildlife from using it.
As we wander through the wilderness, we also complete trail work and make visitor contacts. Our mission is to protect the wilderness character. By clearing trails, we funnel the impact of visitors into a narrow area leaving most of the wilderness in its pristine state. We inform visitors about ways to minimize their impact so the wilderness character can be preserved for generations to come. All the while, mountains and the sounds of wind, birds and insects surround us.
As the sun sets, our work is finished. We often cook dinner, jump into lakes and sleep like the rocks surrounding us. I prefer to get in a nature run before the light fades. I am rewarded with the sights of deer and elk bounding away from me, and I am reminded of my visitor status. The sights I am privileged to see and the clean mountain air remind me of why I do what I do.
Harry Bellow works with San Juan Mountains Association as a wilderness steward.