Saturday, May 30, 2015

365 True Things: 63/Work (VWA)

In previous posts (#s 19 and 26) I have written about working as a Volunteer Wilderness Ranger (VWR) with the Ventana Wilderness Alliance (VWA), in a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service (we wear USFS uniforms). To quote from their website, the VWA is "a grass-roots organization whose mission is to protect, preserve, and restore the wilderness qualities and biodiversity of the public lands within California's northern Santa Lucia Mountains and Big Sur coast."

Today was the annual VWA membership gathering, and for the first time since I joined I was able to attend. It was a friendly group of a hundred fifty or so, sharing a potluck lunch and catching up. Recent accomplishments were outlined during the speechifying: the many miles of disappeared trail (usually as a result of forest fires) restored, the two-year saga of replacing decripit or installing brand-new wilderness toilets in the most impacted camps, and—probably most important—the latest achievements of the Youth in Wilderness program, inspiring young people's passion for and commitment to the backcountry.

I discovered the VWA via their fantastic on-line trail conditions reports. I had gone on a Search & Rescue mission and we ended up on Miller Canyon Trail, which—well, to call it a trail was a stretch of the imagination. Finally we stopped to look at a map and realized we were in totally the wrong place! No wonder we weren't making the progress we expected! It was not a high point in our experience as SAR "professionals."

A couple of weeks before, my friend Steve (in both SAR and VWA) had told me he'd flagged Miller Canyon. Those flags were all that kept us moving forward that long, exhausting night.

Afterward, I checked the VWA trail reports and learned that, indeed, no less than Steve had deemed the trail "impassable (completely overgrown or tread obliterated)." I added my own report on the website:
A team of six members of Monterey County Search and Rescue hiked this trail from the end of Jeffery Road approximately 3.75 miles toward Miller Canyon Camp, beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday, August 30, transporting a heavy wheeled Stokes litter for a potential rescue of a patient (at Hiding Canyon Camp--why we were using this trail is a story unto itself). We found the flagging to be relatively straightforward to follow, easily picked up with our headlamps. The trail varied from being clear, with obvious tread, to areas of steep, soft drop-off; in some spots the trail turned and we continued straight, but we knew to keep looking for the flagging, so we never ventured too far before turning back and rediscovering the trail. At a certain point the slope was so steep and the trail so loose and narrow that we broke apart our litter rig and carried it on our backs. I am guessing we did not get beyond Nason Cabin; in any case, we never got to an area with very thick brush or face-high poison oak [as was described by a previous trail conditions report]. We've searched before for people who've gotten lost on this trail (mainly by venturing down into the creek rather than staying high up the slope), and now we understand just how easy it is to get lost. Steve B's flagging was invaluable--though by the end of our trek we were cursing him for making us think there actually was a trail to follow. All in all, it took us 8 hours to hike approximately 7.5 miles.
I then wrote out a check for the VWA and stuck it in the mail, thanking them for the excellent information they provide.

Two days later, who should I get a call from but . . . the VWA! Inviting me to become more involved. (I pictured the leaders, Mike and Rich, in the office: "Look at this! We've got a live one!") Shortly thereafter, Steve suggested I become a VWR. Ever since then, I have been happily venturing into the wilderness every so often to do trail work, campground cleanup, fire-ring repairs, dead tree removal, wilderness toilet replacement. We chat with visitors about Leave No Trace principles, and recently launched a new program speaking with backpackers at the trailhead of the heavily used Pine Ridge Trail. It's rewarding—and if you like hard work, fun.

Today at the gathering, we were recognized by the USFS for our efforts, in the form of lapel pins. We had a choice, and I went for this "woodsy owl." It's nice to be acknowledged. (Though I was a little disappointed that, instead of "Lend a Hand," it didn't say, "Give a Hoot.") Mostly, it's good to be part of such an active, passionate organization and to know that I'm making a difference.

With ever decreasing federal funding for stewardship and management of the vast public lands of this country, more and more of these alliances are popping up. Wherever you live, I bet you've got at least one or two, if not more, such grass-roots organizations that you can get involved in. It's worth it. And . . . we need all the help we can get.

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