Editor’s note: This blog was written by Emily Williams, one of ICL’s volunteer wilderness stewards. Emily is a recent graduate of Tufts University, and was born and raised in Idaho’s Wood River Valley.

The backcountry season was short this summer, with snowpack lasting into July and flakes beginning to fall again in mid-September-but even in adverse conditions wilderness stewards were doing their part to mitigate human impact on the protected wildernesses of Central Idaho.

This year’s steward program included both veterans and rookies who went on a total of 102 patrols throughout the Sawtooth, Boulders, White Clouds and Jerry Peak wildernesses.

On these patrols, the stewards

  • Packed out over 45 pounds of trash
  • Destroyed 30 illegal fire rings
  • Cleaned and naturalized 28 fire rings
  • Extinguished one abandoned campfire
  • Cleaned up 7 human waste issues
  • Patrolled for over 829 hours.

Over the season, the stewards encountered a total of

  • 660 day hikers
  • 750 backpackers
  • 19 horseback riders
  • 28 horse and mule packers
  • 0 goat packers
  • 12 llama packers
  • 19 mountain bikers (2 illegal)
  • 17 legal motorcycle riders
  • 437 parties of people
  • 244 dogs (70 on leash).

Those numbers can’t speak wholly for the extent of the stewards’ impact, though. Boise residents and first-year stewards Rebecca, Jamie, Lucy (9) and Henry (7) reflected, "Our relationship with the wilderness has changed through the steward program. Before the program we didn’t understand the impact of our small, seemingly benign, actions in the backcountry-such as hiking with our dog off leash. Now we not only know how that adversely impacts other animals and the land, but also we feel responsible for modeling for others who, like us, don’t yet understand."

Rebecca emphasized the connections she made, and that she watched her children make, as a result of engaging with the natural world through this new lens. "We ‘trained’ many friends and family members through conversations and modeling what we do in the wilderness.  I watched as other children noticed my children’s actions and tried to emulate them, with the downstream effect of their parents asking questions and then changing their own actions for the better, right before my eyes."

Clearly, their efforts had an impact. Her children, Henry and Lucy, taught their cousins what a wilderness steward was, and the six- and four-year-old cousins reported to their mother that "Rebecca and Jamie and Henry and Lucy are wilderness stewards. They help the wilderness keep safe. For example they help catch garbage that’s in the water. If they’re on trails they make sure that if dogs aren’t allowed and they see a dog, they tell the person that they’re not following the rules, and if there are bikes, they tell them no bikes; if a sign is broken they will report everything that they saw to the wilderness keepers."

Each of us, as visitors to the wilderness, are its keepers.  Master naturalists and veteran stewards Sherry and Don Weber emphasized that through the steward program they are, “more acutely aware of wilderness, the need for it, and how our present-day society will increasingly utilize it. Being a wilderness steward has opened our eyes to what is available to us in Idaho, as a resource for the human soul.”

It is up to us to preserve these untrammeled places. We had 35 stewards this year connecting with other visitors to spread the word about how best to engage responsibly with our shared natural world. How will you minimize your impact? For the Webers, “We continue to be wilderness stewards because of the impact we hope we are having on maintaining the wilderness as it is now decreed to be used by humans. What an honor! It gives us a purpose and also a blessing to be able to be out in the wilderness, enjoying it to the fullest!”

If you’re interested in being part of the program, please get in touch with Betsy Mizell.