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.
There are over 670,000 acres of designated wilderness in the four Central Idaho wilderness areas, and only a handful of U.S. Forest Service rangers to patrol that vast expanse land. The stewardship program exists to help fill that gap by getting extra boots on the ground. The program is a joint effort between the ICL and the Forest Service, and has grown to more than 60 volunteer stewards since its inception in 2016. The stewards provide invaluable insights for the Forest Service, who uses the data the stewards collect to better understand best management practices for these unique wild places.
This year’s stewards hail from all over Central Idaho – from Pocatello to Idaho Falls to Boise to Clayton – and range in age from 8 to 82. If there’s one thing they all have in common, it’s a passion for both spending time outside and giving back. Each steward has an appreciation for wild places and understands the importance of protecting them.
Returning steward, Martha Bibb reflects, "We appreciate wilderness through a continuum. Our desire to go out and conquer that peak or next challenge tempers with age. What we do as we age changes. We appreciate different things, we love and appreciate natural beauty more." Wilderness provides an escape from the mechanized world. It exists as a place of solitude, a stronghold for clean water, and a refuge for wildlife. Wilderness is one of the few places that still remains in its natural, primeval state.
Whether you appreciate wilderness for the access it grants to bagging that next peak, or the breath of fresh air and peace of mind it brings, it’s up to us to make sure these untouched, wild places continue to exist. "We are creatures of the planet. We belong in the wilderness. We might just need to be more careful," stated one of the original wilderness stewards, Sara Gress, during her presentation on the Wilderness Act at our steward training thiss year. The Wilderness Act states that, "A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is…where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
In order to translate the law of the Wilderness Act into a tangible ethic, and learn to be a little more careful, the stewards were trained on Leave No Trace principles, and learned how to skillfully and appropriately react to various scenarios, from naturalizing an illegal fire ring to cleaning up an abandoned campsite.
Within the first week of the stewardship season the stewards have already been on nine wilderness patrols. These volunteers are not only out there doing the dirty work of mitigating adverse human impact, but engaging with other visitors to educate about the importance of a Leave No Trace ethos. I hope that you get a chance to meet a steward out on the trails this summer, and that the work they’re doing might inspire you to help protect these places.