After clearing hundreds of trees from wilderness trails this summer, the U.S. Forest Service is catching up on wilderness monitoring with help from local volunteers.
Trail crews cleared fallen trees from all the trails in the Savage Run Wilderness and Encampment River Wilderness, including removing more than 800 trees from along the 16-mile Encampment River Trail. They also cleared most trails in the Platte River Wilderness and Huston Park Wilderness.
“It was more work than they anticipated, and there were more trees that were down than we even thought,” Forest Service spokesman Aaron Voos said. “A lot of work was done this summer just cutting dead trees off of trails.”
Volunteers from Common Outdoor Ground got the work started earlier this summer by conducting an assessment of the trails and noting areas with down trees, missing signs or other damage. Advance work on the part of volunteers allowed crews to better use their time.
“That allowed the crews that came on board and worked with the Laramie Ranger District and the Brush Creek-Hayden District to go out and be really efficient with the work they did this summer,” Voos said.
Wyoming Conservation Corps and American Conservation Experience contributed 7,680 hours of work. American Conservation Experience volunteers, based in Arizona, spend up to 12 months in the program, usually with an eye on a future career in land management.
Volunteers with a group called Wilderness Outreach spent 960 hours working on the Douglas Creek Trail. The Ohio-based leadership-development organization enlists men from the Catholic Church to build trails.
The trail work should continue next summer, depending on funding.
Now that many of the trails are clear, the Forest Service has turned its attention to monitoring the level of solitude that forest visitors find in wilderness areas.
Wilderness areas are designated by Congress on public lands that meet certain criteria. The Wilderness Act of 1964 created the designation, and since then, 803 wilderness areas have been created, including 10 on the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests.
According to the act, wilderness areas must contain at least 5,000 acres of federal land on which human influence is “substantially unnoticeable” and offer opportunities for solitude and recreation. Wilderness areas must also possess ecological or geological features of scenic, historic, scientific or educational value.
In order to manage wilderness areas, the Forest Service conducts “solitude monitoring.” With help from a grant from the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance, Common Outdoor Ground is leading the effort in southeast Wyoming this fall.
“There’s an emphasis on late summer and fall just because that’s when a lot of the usage in wilderness areas takes place, with hunters and hikers and people looking for fall colors,” Voos said.
Visitors to the Huston Park and Encampment River wilderness areas this fall can contribute to the project by filling out an online form or looking for the form at a trailhead. Meghan Kent, who’s coordinating the effort for COG, said anyone who spends at least four hours in the wilderness can participate. A link to the survey is available at www.commonoutdoorground.org under the “Events Calendar” tab.
“We’re asking people to go out and spend some time in the wilderness and then record the number of times they run into another person, or if they can hear other people,” she said.
Wilderness visitors can also record whether they did any trail work on their own, such as removing a tree, and report areas that need maintenance.
“There are constantly areas with trees being blown down, and we rely on the public to help us with finding out about where those locations are,” Voos said.