Poudre Wilderness Volunteers trail ride with purpose

Livermore residents Linda Sunday and husband her Rick Black are two of more than 100 equestrians with Poudre Wilderness Volunteers who assist visitors and help keep natural areas in some of Colorado’s most desirable destinations blight-free.

The mounted wilderness volunteers, managed by the U.S. Forest Service’s Canyon Lakes Ranger District, has provided a variety of valuable services since the mid-1990s at Roosevelt National Forest, the Pawnee Grasslands, Rawah Wilderness, Cache la Poudre Wilderness, Comanche Peak Wilderness area and Neota Wilderness areas.

Unlike rangers, PWV members have no legal authority, but educate and assist wilderness visitors, leave no trace, and recognize the “authority of the resource”, which is respect for the needs of the wilderness.

Volunteers pick up trash, dismantle illegal fire rings, and aid sick/injured hikers, riders, bikers and backpackers. Because they are usually out of cellphone range, PWV gear includes two-way Forest Service radios. In some areas, S.P.O.T. satellite system devices (which fit in the palm of the hand) are required equipment because of the perilous possibility of being struck by falling beetle-kill trees. Saws to clear trails of downed branches are also a necessity. Large trees present a weightier problem that requires a GPS unit and request for a Volunteer Trail Crew, also part of PVW, to remove large obstacles.

Who can best serve as a Poudre Wilderness Volunteer? Because of the associated time and expense, most riders in their 20s or 30s are childless. Sunday and Black delayed joining PWV until 2008, when family and job responsibilities allowed. Many volunteers are empty-nesters or retired; one gentleman is 83.

Many horse breeds, including quarter horses, Missouri fox trotters, thoroughbreds and Arabians, are represented. Sunday, age 66, proves age is no barrier, for humans or equines. She rides Sydney, a 21-year-old Arabian mare; Black’s gelding, Candy, also an Arabian, is 22.

Sunday is glad they have older, seasoned, fit and calm mounts to ride in wilderness settings, where ‘unruffled’ is an essential equine virtue. Although motorized vehicles aren’t allowed in most wilderness areas, riders frequently encounter mountain bikes, dogs off-leash, moose and llamas used for packing.

“Horses can be very, very leery of llamas!” Sunday said with a knowing chuckle.

Stamina is a must since the shortest trail is 2-miles round trip and the longest covers a whopping 16 miles. Higher elevations can quickly sap energy. Depending on the particular trail, patrols take anywhere from two hours to several days requiring overnight camping. When patrolling areas that Australians would appropriately refer to as ‘back of beyond,’ carrying appropriate supplies can mean the difference between life and death. For example…

Sunday is one of PWV’s mentors (seasoned volunteers who work with new recruits). One May 2013 day, Sunday patiently waited for her assigned novice. After a lengthy time had passed, and with no cellphone service available in the area, she gave up on the no-show and instead joined a group of riders heading out. As they rode on, one horse, Rooster, lagged behind. When everyone stopped for a snack, the horse showed signs of colic.

Intending to set a perfect example for her trainee, Sunday had packed certain equine first aid supplies she normally wouldn’t carry. These included the drugs Banamine and bute, both commonly used to treat colic. After a dose of each, Rooster was able to make it back to the main trail. He was loaded up and trailered to the veterinary hospital at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Although Sunday never learned Rooster’s fate, she was nevertheless glad she’d carried medications that gave him a fighting chance.

Potential volunteers’ applications are due by March 1. Those selected must have a strong passion for the outdoors and for helping others, said Sunday, pointing out that a six-patrol annual commitment during the April through September season is required. Following interviews, successful candidates attend a spring kickoff night followed by a camp-out training session the weekend before Memorial Day weekend. Horses must complete a ‘challenge,’ which tests mounts’ reactions to barking dogs, bridges, blowing tents, approaching llamas and more.

“PWV is for people who want to ride (in the wilderness) with a purpose,” she said, adding, “Volunteering with them is the best thing my husband and I have ever done. I can’t imagine not doing this.”

For additional information or to volunteer with PWV, call the Canyon Lakes Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service at 970-295-6600, or visit the group’s website, www.poudrewildernessvolunteers.com.

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