Editor’s note: This post is authored by one of ICL’s 2017 volunteer wilderness stewards, Emily Williams. A recent graduate of Tufts University, Emily was born and raised in Idaho’s Wood River Valley. For more information on being a good steward on your own adventures and following Leave No Trace principles, visit our Adventuring Responsibly page.
For the group of Central Idaho wilderness stewards hitting the trails this summer, wilderness is peaceful, capricious, sweaty, priceless, life force, privileged, introspective, essential. ICL is partnering with the U.S. Forest Service on the wilderness stewardship program, now in its second year-and this season, the number of motivated stewards has almost doubled, from 19 to 35.
This season’s volunteer wilderness stewards have committed to four wilderness patrols during which they’ll monitor trail conditions, mitigate human impact on the environment, note wildlife sightings, and implement Leave No Trace principles. They will report their findings to the Forest Service, providing invaluable insight for the limited number of rangers patrolling over 400,00 acres of wilderness.
Mike Abbott, a master naturalist and Idaho Falls resident, became a steward because he has always believed that wilderness is truly something special. He stated that, "I feel even stronger now after watching first-hand the continued increasing pressure these areas face from human travel, ever-present attempts to invade these areas with new forms of mechanized travel, and a current government administration that values short-term profits over long-term sustainability and ecological balance. This same administration is squeezing funding from the USFS to oversee and properly manage these areas. I believe it is the public’s responsibility to do our part to maintain and fight for these areas if they are to survive."
During last year’s inaugural season, the stewards went on 116 patrols throughout the Sawtooth Wilderness, Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness, White Clouds Wilderness, and Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness. On these patrols, they packed out over 70 pounds of litter and destroyed more than 95 illegal fire rings.
Mike is one of many stewards returning to the program. He committed to a second season of stewardship because, "These areas, as big as they seem on a map, are mere islands in a big sea of human development and change. I believe it will be an ever-increasing battle to maintain them in a truly wild, untrammeled state. It’s a high priority for me to continue to do my part and try to convince others to help out and not take these wild places for granted."
Stewards interacted with 1,500 trail users in 2016, doing their best to educate visitors on sustainable wilderness practices including recreating in a manner respectful to the environment, animals and other humans, and leaving only foot prints behind.
The most challenging part of stewardship for Mike was returning from his many trips in the mountains to civilization. "I made a lot of effort to really get out there last year. In the process, I discovered only a small fraction of the treasures these areas possess and was rewarded with the spiritual gifts that only true wild country can provide." Keeping these areas wild means continuing to do our part to leave them untrammeled by human impact.
Before you head out on the trails this summer, Mike has one piece of advice: "Travel with an acute awareness that you are a temporary, wimpy guest in an area that is filled with wonderful, sensitive full-time residents (plants and wildlife)."