If you’ve ever thought you might like to be a backcountry forest ranger, check into joining the Poudre Wilderness Volunteers. For 20 years now, this group, with a current membership of 275 people ranging in age from 18 to more than 80 years old, has been working with the U.S. Forest Service to care for the backcountry of the Canyon Lakes Ranger District. Twelve of these members are from Wellington.
The organization got its start when the Forest Service cut back and additional manpower was needed.
Kathy James and her husband Chester returned to Colorado from Texas in 2005 and have been active PWV volunteers for 11 years. They own Tennessee Walker horses and showed them while in Texas. Back home in Northern Colorado, Kathy knew she was finished with showing but she was anxious to do some trail riding. PWV was the perfect answer.
The Jameses serve as trail hosts, sometimes riding their horses, other times hiking as they patrol. When there’s trail work to be done, the Jameses bring their llamas along to do the heavy lifting. There was plenty of that following the floods of 2013.
“We’re here to educate people,” Kathy said. “We don’t do any enforcement or hand out any fines. Our job is to teach people proper use of trails and to assist them when they need a little help.”
Celia Walker, chairwoman of the PWV recruitment and outreach committee, says that during a day on the trail volunteers may provide treatment for a blister, share water, a dog leash or a rain poncho, give route directions and suggest a spot to camp. Their whole goal is to encourage responsible backcountry use.
“Most offenses involve dogs off leash,” Kathy said. “While we do no fining, we do encourage owners to keep their dogs on leash for the safety of the dogs and the well-being of other trail users.” Other common tasks include removing fire rings that have been built in the wrong places and trash pick-up. “It’s crazy how much trash collects during the hunting season,” she said.
Volunteers also take care of cutting down trees that are obstacles on the trail. If the tree is too large for them to remove, they report it to the Forest Service.
Kathy appreciates the excellent organization of the group and the training given to volunteers each May. “We learn all the rules and regulations and the most appropriate way to interact with people,” she explained.
Volunteers are asked to commit to six patrols during the season. Usually volunteers are out for an entire day. “I’d encourage anyone who wants to get out and hike or ride a horse to join the program,” Kathy said. “We like both riding and hiking. You get a totally different perspective from a horse.”
According to the U.S. Forest Service, there is only one other organization in the country that donates more time than PWV. It shows. Kathy says she notices a drastic difference between trails that are maintained by PWV and those that are not. Walker says the group intends to be number one next year and she invites those with an interest in riding and hiking with a purpose to join them.
Applications for the 2016 season are due by March 28. Required training sessions are scheduled for May 18 and June 3-5. Attend one of the PWV Preview events for further details. They are planned for 6:30-8 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Council Tree Library, Front Range Village, 2733 Council Tree Ave., Fort Collins, and 10:30 a.m. to noon March 5 at Harmony Library, Front Range Community College, 4616 S. Shields St., Fort Collins. See PWV.org for more information and a link to the application.
Poudre Wilderness Volunteers add up
Total volunteer hours in 2015: 10,754
Value of volunteer hours to USFS: $266,313
Value of volunteer hours since 2006: $4,769,439
Trail patrols in 2015: 973
Trail users contacted 2015: 8,869
Violations reported 2015: 1,093
Trees cleared 2015: 1,354
Participants in Kids in Nature hikes in 2015: 81
PWV and public trail restoration days in 2015: 34