Forest rangers, Craig Saum and Ian Barbosa, with a group of 14 volunteers spent the weekend of June 17-19 cleaning up the South Boundary Trail.
The thirteen volunteers of the New Mexico Volunteers for the Outdoors (NMVFO) came to Taos from many towns and cities around New Mexico and as far away as Harrisburg Pennsylvania to pitch in.
This was but one of their 20 annually scheduled projects to help keep New Mexico trails user-friendly.
I’ve often wondered how there are so many great hiking opportunities so close to Taos.
The wide variety of hiking trails is a key reason I retired out herein 1994.
I’ve heard the same story from so many other hikers I’ve met since I’ve been here.
And, I see many of them on our more popular hiking trails like the Devisadero and South Boundary trails so easily accessed from town.
In fact, Carson Forest ranger Craig Saum points out that the El Nogal the trailhead for these trails is “the most popular recreation spot on the entire Carson National Forest.”
No doubt it is so busy is because of it is just a mile and a half east of Taos Plaza on Hwy 64.
Craig is one of only seven trail crew members hired by the USFS each year for this gargantuan task.
Luckily for us, there are hundreds of hikers who volunteer time to help Craig and his team with the trail maintenance.
One of whom, Tom Mulvilia, spends a day a week volunteering, so almost qualifies as a ranger himself.
Craig says he gets far more individuals offering to help than he has the ability to plan for and direct.
Because volunteers need supervision, and Craig’s team is so stretched out in their tasks to instruct and oversee individuals, it’s more useful for him to get returning volunteers with trail maintenance experience such as this NMVFO task force.
Each group of volunteers usually includes a few who’ve worked on trails before and help oversee the work.
Along similar lines, the Carson National Forest recently put on a two-day “Trailmaster Workshop,” free to the community, in order to help develop and encourage local volunteerism and trail maintenance skills.
The NMVFO group along with Craig, Tom, and Ian, on their first day out were able to clear sixteen trees that had blown down across the trail during the winter, brush back encroaching vegetation, remove countless “obstacle rocks” from the tread, and to dig twelve “drain dips” to divert erosive water off of the South Boundary trail.
A key reason these volunteers were so productive is because three of the top executives of the 200-member NMVFO gave muscle to their team: President Gena Robertson, Project Committee Chair Chris Fritzsche and board member Mike Timmer, all of whom are hardened trail workers.
Then there are the stalwart hiking-trail junkies, like Lisa Kokoski, who came all the way out from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to work on the trail.
Hundreds of Volunteers
Among the volunteer groups Craig depends upon for this assistance. are the Moreno Valley Trekkers, Hogan’s Heroes, Girl Scouts, Del Norte Mountain Bike Alliance (after all the 20-mile South Boundary trail is rated as a premier mountain biking route), and the Enchanted Circle Trails Association.
The Moreno Valley Trekkers and Hogan’s Heroes are volunteers who contribute to the maintenance of Angel Fire area trails.
Another major trail project is the reconstruction of a log bridge across the West Fork of the Santa Barbara Creek in the Pecos Wilderness.
The log bridge was washed out by high waters the past couple of years.
This September the National Smoke Jumpers Association will dispatch a group of volunteers to make camp on the banks of the West Fork for a week rebuilding this rustic log bridge./
Like Tom Mavilia, many unaffiliated more experienced individuals also make a great contribution to the trail system’s sustainability.
Some special projects require crews of longer term duration
The Carson National Forest is able to also contract out to other partner organizations such as the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (RMYC) to take on more detailed trail projects.
Recreation Staff Officer Paul Schilke has an exceptional Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crew rebuilding the Pot Creek Cultural Center trail and facilities.
Then too, two of the six seasonal trail crew members under the supervision of USFS ranger Jeff (Mugzy) Mugleston take care of the section of the Continental Divide Trail that crosses the Carson National Forest over beyond Tres Piedras in the vicinity of the Brazos and Hopewell Lake.
The vital role volunteers have in caring for our nation’s trails
Hikers seem to generally tend to take a proprietary interest in the land they love to hike.
So, volunteering time to care for their trails seems built into their psyche.
There are 6,000 hiker-volunteers, for example, that maintain the Appalachian Trail.
They traditionally put in 200,000 hours taking care of the AT’s 2,181-mile path.
And, volunteers have been intensely active on the other National Scenic Trails that include the Pacific Crest Trail as well as the Continental Divide Trail.
Forest rangers are my heroes.
I often hike with them, usually after they retire.
And of course there is nothing like chatting with currently employed rangers doing their job.
Craig is of the latter breed.
In fact, Craig is so avid a trail junky, he often spends his days off doing more trail maintenance.
Without pay, of course.
See what I mean?
As a final tribute I’d rate the land agency employees let me say I hold them in the highest regard of all federal government agencies.