Crew of seasonal U.S. Forest Service patrollers keep White River National Forest safe from wildfire | VailDaily.com

Crew of seasonal U.S. Forest Service patrollers keep White River National Forest safe from wildfire

Deepan Dutta
Summit Daily News

SUMMIT COUNTY — Trading cubicles for trails and air conditioning for sunshine, Kate Caulfield and Trent Kenreigh have a pretty sweet office called the White River National Forest. Caulfield and Kenreigh are among four seasonal forest service patrollers hired by the U.S. Forest Service to mitigate wildfire danger.

The patrollers have been going out into the forest every day of the week this summer to block off illegal dispersed camping areas, break up illegal fire rings and educate the public about fire safety.

This will be Caulfield's second season with the Forest Service, and it will Kenreigh's first. Both are in their mid-20s, Caulfield hailing from New Jersey and Kenreigh from Ohio. They both came out to Colorado to help protect the state's precious natural resources.

"I recreate myself in the forest a lot, it's something that is important to me and something I want to help protect," Kenreigh said when asked about why he's working for the Forest Service and serving on this summer patrol.

Dillon ranger Bill Jackson said just the visibility of the crew makes a difference.

"What really works to manage the forest is having boots on the ground, a ranger patrol presence," Jackson said. "It's great seeing all these resources — Forest Service trucks, rangers and volunteers — tending to the forest."

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Unique Collaboration

The "dispersed recreation" crew is the product of a unique collaboration between the feds, local governments and emergency agencies, which saw a total of $136,000 raised for the patrol and overtime for sheriff's deputies and forest rangers.

The difference the crew is making is charted out in activity logs: nearly a thousand contacts with individuals to date, five abandoned campsites and one unattended campfire extinguished, 59 fire rings dismantled, 116 signposts installed, 68 bags of trash removed, 13 squatter camps dismantled and cleaned and two tickets issued.

The patrollers have also been building buck and rail fencing to block off illegal camping areas, such as within 100 feet of waterways or trails. The crew has installed 103 sections of these fences made from nothing but felled trees and nails.

Aside from fire, the artificial development of these camping sites creates lasting damage to sensitive parts of the forest and its vital watershed. The fences have also blocked off illegal roads created over time by off-roaders that have become mistaken as official roads into the forest. It is illegal to drive vehicles more than 300 feet away from designated roads.

Making an inventory of dispersed camping sites was an essential task that ensures problem locations can be regularly patrolled. It also tracks popular areas that are relatively safe for camping to see if they can be designated for exceptions.

Jackson said the community can feel a little safer knowing that the crew is out in the woods, making the forest safer and more enjoyable.

"The agreement with the county is good through 2021, and I'm hopeful this relationship and funding agreement can continue into the future," Jackson said. "It's made a major difference out here."