Give Thanks to the Wild – Especially the Volunteers!
Thanksgiving is a time to show gratitude. Each year I give thanks for our wild places. Like so many other people, hiking, backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, skiing in the backcountry and wilderness have brought me joy and, more importantly, taught me many lessons. I am thankful these special places are preserved for us all to experience
Whether these trips are on one of our nation’s iconic trails or wild and scenic rivers or closer to home, we should all be thankful that 50 years ago congress passed the National Trails Act and National Wild and Scenic River act. A web of over 50,000 miles of National Scenic, Historic and Recreational Trail has been preserved, built and maintained since that time. These trails provide access to many special places across the nation including Idaho and Montana. However, it requires work to keep them open.
It would be easy to take for granted that these trails will always be around. And, that the special places they go to will stay wild forever. In an era of shrinking budgets, volunteers are needed to keep the trails open. Unless we step up to keep them that way, we are at risk of losing access to wild country.
Nationally, groups like the Backcountry Horsemen of America and the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance provide support for volunteer projects to maintain backcountry and wilderness trails. Iconic trails, like the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail or the Pacific Northwest Trail have organizations with dedicated staff and volunteers that work to keep them open. In many states organizations like the Idaho Trails Association (ITA) work to keep access open to backcountry hiking trails. ITA’s volunteer resources and impact is growing both statewide and in North Idaho.
Many National Parks, Wilderness Areas or other special places have “Friends of” groups that focus on the needs of a particular place. Here locally we have the all-volunteer Pend Oreille Pedalers who are active in keeping many backcountry mountain bike trails up to riding standards.
Volunteers from the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness (FSPW) have spent hundreds of hours maintaining trails so that all may enjoy a hike to the top of the iconic namesake peak, or a trip through the tall ancient cedars, or a walk into many other backcountry destinations.
Like many other organizations dedicated to a special place, FSPW volunteers do so much to deserve our gratitude. In addition to trail maintenance, they lead others who may be novices on hikes and projects so they can experience the wild backcountry. Volunteers also work on whitebark pine and other habitat restoration, weed mitigation and education efforts.
As more people enjoy our wild places, encounters with wildlife increase. FSPW volunteers help to inform backcountry users on how to be bear aware and mountain goat smart and safe. Trail Ambassadors spend time from June through October in the field, to help make sure the trail can remain open and the experience is safer for both hikers and mountain goats.
In this season of thanks, we should all thank the many volunteers whose passion and hours of service keep our backcountry trails open and our special places wild and free for all who are seeking a quiet, natural place!