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Volunteers vital in effort to protect public lands

Last weekend, I hiked from spring back to winter.

While the corn lilies and monument plants were pushing their leaves upward at the trailhead, I was soon in snow several feet deep. I followed the path packed by boots and even bikes, and then I hit mud and downed trees.

Erica Tucker

Hikers bound for the summit and undeterred by snow bounced by as I took a break on a dry log. Up here, the marsh marigolds are just poking through snow, their white petals gleaming. The view of distant alpine meadows is great, and ruby-crowned kinglets are serenading their mates.

And ... the trail is going to need some help as more people come up into the mountains. Cutting out the fallen trees, blocking off the social trails that develop as people avoid mud or snow, and sharing information about the conditions as people step away from the trailhead – all of this necessary for the trails to be enjoyable and accessible for visitors.

As the volunteer services director with the San Juan Mountains Association, I hear all about the trail conditions from our Forest Service partners checking in after patrols and from people who visit the office for up-to-date information. How many trees are down in the Chicago Basin? Can a horse go up that trail? Is the road to Kennebec Pass open and clear of snow yet?

More visitors coming every year necessitate a greater response to care for our public lands and the assistance from partner groups is essential. And volunteers are a vital part of this equation! Volunteers leverage the work of the Forest Service, deepen the community’s commitment to protect public lands, and also help nonprofit organizations meet required matches from funders. Are you ready to help out?

There are many ways to get involved as a volunteer with San Juan Mountains Association to help protect, restore and teach about public lands. (Courtesy of P. Sherman/San Juan Mountains Association)

There are many ways to get involved as a volunteer to help protect, restore and teach about public lands. If you like to get your hands dirty, several local organizations have trail work days that include everything from sawing out fallen trees to rebuilding the tread of the trail.

If you are friendly and enjoy helping and teaching others, trail ambassadors share information about Leave No Trace ethics with hikers and visitors. Naturalist volunteers lead nature hikes to introduce people to the ecology and geology of the San Juan Mountains and to foster respect and admiration of the landscape.

Hikers and backpackers collect data about visitor numbers, campsite conditions, water quality and wildlife sightings. Horse and llama packers offer assistance to trail crews with equipment drops.

However you like to explore the beautiful public lands of Southwest Colorado, there is a way you can give back to this area. If you would like to help the San Juan Mountains Association, see all of our volunteer opportunities at sjma.volunteerlocal.com/volunteer, or sign up for our next volunteer training at 5:30 p.m. June 14 in Durango. For more information, contact me at etucker@sjma.org.

Meanwhile, my boots have dried out from the slushy trails, and I’m ready to head out again. I wonder what will be in bloom this week?

Erica Tucker is the volunteer services director for San Juan Mountains Association.