Making a Difference: Poudre Wilderness Volunteers Waiting Out Lock Down


Libby James

“We’re on stand-by for now,” says Elaine Green current chair of Poudre Wilderness Volunteers. Green, along with a cadre of 350 members, is committed to assisting the Canyon Lakes Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service in managing and protecting the wilderness and backcountry areas in its jurisdiction.

The district, west of Fort Collins in Larimer County, consists of 650,022 acres and is part of Roosevelt and Arapahoe National Forests, and Pawnee National Grasslands. There are 57 trails of trails in the district which encompasses four wilderness areas, three national recreation trails, two historic districts, and the Cache La Poudre River, Colorado’s only wild and scenic river.

Photo Courtesy Elaine Green. Elaine on a wilderness hike.

Green, who came from Oregon to Fort Collins in 2006 to serve as an administrator at Colorado State University, has been an outdoor lover and educator all her life. When she retired in 2016 and was looking for a volunteer opportunity, she saw Poudre Wilderness Volunteers as a perfect fit for her. “A light bulb went on,” she said. “Here was a fulfilling activity right in my backyard.”

PWV was formed in 1996, through the efforts of Chuck Bell, a lone volunteer in the Red Feather Lakes Ranger District who became aware of the need for a trained volunteer crew when Forest Service budgets were being drastically cut in the mid-1990s. Bell was able to obtain a grant and the organization has thrived ever since.

On foot and on horseback, the volunteers patrol trails, do maintenance, and are there to educate users. Volunteers on horses are able to penetrate further into the wilderness areas. PWV is not an enforcement agency. Volunteers do not write tickets, but only work to educate users and remind them of the”leave no trace” policy in the wilderness.

In the past, recruitment for volunteers has begun in January followed by training sessions before new members go out onto the trails. Last year volunteers repaired flood damage to the Young Gulch Trail, cut down 1416 trees, and donated nearly 25,000 hours of their time, a $635,369 value according to Green. Volunteers are asked to patrol six times during a season, but many do more than that. Since 2005, volunteers have given nearly eight million dollars worth of their time and effort.

The organization operates a Kids in Nature program that invites groups from local organizations such as Boys and Girls Club and Aztlan Center to participate in educational and fun field trips. They have also sponsored a Central Rockies Wilderness Volunteer workshop drawing participants from eight states.

Because of the pandemic, training has been suspended in 2020. Green says members are kept up to date with emails and a newsletter. No patrols have been scheduled. The visitor center is closed. Members up for recertification have been given an extra year to complete that training.  A new program has been initiated in the organization to assist housebound volunteers.

PWV organization remains strong and viable and promises to endure. Members stand ready to ramp up as soon as it is possible to patrol again. Meanwhile, they are staying safe and venturing out for a hike whenever possible.

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