Volunteer Trail Crew Builds Capacity for Community Wilderness Stewardship

By Jesse Furr

Few activities are capable of bringing a group of people together like excursions into the great outdoors, and even fewer are as constructive as joining a team to complete much-needed trail maintenance in wilderness. These are values that Shippen Salas and Smokey Bear Ranger District employee Orin Nutting see in action as co-organizers of the inimitable Smokey Bear Volunteer Trail Crew.

SBVTC and NMWA on the Cut Across Trail // Sean Christensen.

Every other Saturday between May and September, visitors to the White Mountain Wilderness might encounter an enthusiastic group of anywhere from eight to fifteen volunteers who are all happy to get outside, cut downed trees out of the trail, and chat with friends (new and old). Considering that thousands of trees fall and obstruct trails each winter, these outings, which started in 2014, are not only fun and a great way to get exercise, they are also essential to keeping the wilderness accessible to the area’s avid visitors.

White Mountain Wilderness looking south from Crest Trail // Jesse Furr.

On a recent Saturday, volunteers gathered at the Pennsylvania Canyon Trailhead in the north eastern section of the White Mountain Wilderness, eager to put several crosscut saws to good use. After exchanging conversation and welcoming a new volunteer who was happy to get away from his week-long job in an office, the crew started up the trail, hoping to beat out the looming clouds. As ominous as the overcast sky might have seemed, it offered much-appreciated shade as the group traversed westward into the wilderness area. Amidst conversation ranging from wildlife sightings and bear safety to harrowing road bike races, the crew cleared 16 problem trees—mostly ponderosa—all of which were over eight inches in diameter and threatened to push visitors downhill, leading to trail damage and erosion.

Wilderness portal sign on Pennsylvania Canyon Trail // Tobi Nickel.

Fortunately the weather held out and only offered a refreshing sprinkle as the day drew to a close. Work completed, folks said farewell and reminded each other of the good times they would be sure to have in a few weeks.

Tularosa Basin as seen from north of Lookout Mountain // Jesse Furr.

Jesse is a Wilderness Ranger for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance on the Smokey Bear Ranger District of the Lincoln National Forest, stewarding the White Mountain and Capitan Mountains Wilderness Areas. For questions about these special places, volunteering, and/or NMWA, email Jesse@NMWild.org

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