Wilderness rangers put boots on the trail | VailDaily.com

Wilderness rangers put boots on the trail

Janice Kurbjun
Summit Daily News
Vail, CO Colorado

Daily file photo

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado – Mike Mayrer volunteers with Friends of the Eagles Nest ranger program because “it’s peaceful, it’s quiet – and it’s great exercise,” he said.

It’s also a way to help preserve wilderness and continue to educate visitors on what the wilderness designation means.

“People don’t know what wilderness is,” said Cyndi Koop, Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness volunteer ranger coordinator. “They don’t realize it’s an added layer of protection by Congress. It’s held for our children’s children’s children. It was an idea of a couple of wonderful people.”

The volunteer ranger program began in 2005, and since then, it’s contributed more than 3,617 hours of time patrolling the trails. That’s a value of $74,151 to the U.S. Forest Service, based on a $20.50 per hour wage – and that doesn’t include trail work done by Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness.

“We have seen 17,297 visitors and have contacted 11,276 of those visitors (on the trail),” Koop said, adding that hikers, backpackers, anglers, dogs and hunters are all tallied separately in the system. “We have witnessed 1,353 dogs on a leash, and that’s awesome. Only 747 were off the leash. It’s getting better.”

Currently, there are 52 rangers in Eagle and Summit counties committing to a minimum of four, four-hour days each summer, with about two dozen dedicated volunteer rangers in Summit County. The program is similar to the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, except that it is dedicated to the Eagles Nest Wilderness, which spans both counties and has more than 1,000 miles of trails. Rangers also help out in the Holy Cross Wilderness, Koop said.

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Volunteer rangers aren’t on the trail to enforce the rules, though they are there to educate and encourage compliance. They redirect people who are lost, often walking with them to make sure they find the right path again. Sometimes, rangers carry extra bottles of water or share mosquito repellent with those who have underestimated the pests’ presence. They carry maps and first-aid kits – just in case.

Mayrer and Koop tell stories of individuals who have to be gently corrected for breaking rules they didn’t know exist, as well as simply helping people understand where they are on the map.

One man, whom Koop later learned was from New York City, was frantic when she met him.

“Where are the signs?” he asked, to which she replied, “You’re in the wilderness.” He insisted that he should have seen a sign by now, and Koop said she let him know that wherever there’s a T in a trail, a sign indicates trail locations.

She has also broken up illegal fire rings – ones situated too close to water – which takes significant work. So much work, she’s considering organizing backpacking crews who can stick around to do the rehabilitation.

Another time, Koop was startled by a dog bounding up to her while she was sitting by a stream. When she asked the young man who owned the dog if he knew he was in wilderness, he exclaimed, “Yes! I drove 150 miles to get here so my dog could run free!” To which, she explained that dogs are to be kept on leash in wilderness areas.