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Wilderness Wanderings: ‘Be no trace’ in wilderness

Bob Korch/For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Know before you go

Most of our popular lake trails in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area are now clear of fallen trees and snow. Mica Lake Trail was opened up by an Friends of Wilderness team last week but the upper part of the trail is very muddy from snowmelt.

Another group of our volunteers last Saturday cleared the upper 4 miles of Silver Creek Trail. Surprisingly, they found no snow, even at that high elevation.

But there are still snow drifts along the top end of the Zirkel Circle, according to hikers who have been up there. FOW is planning to clear trees from that trail section next week, in time for the many hikers who will be up there for a long July 4 vacation.

Contact the local U.S. Forest Service office at 970-870-2299 for information on other forest trails and up to date conditions.

Most of us are familiar with Leave No Trace backcountry ethics whereby we minimize our impact on the wilderness. But have you considered “Be No Trace?” I certainly had not until last week.

My friend and fellow Friends of Wilderness volunteer Paul Randolph brought this up during a recent conversation. “’Leave No Trace’ is past tense,” Randolph said. Think about your impact in the present “on people, on wildlife and on yourself.”

I have deep respect for Randolph and his minimalist approach toward hiking and camping. After all, he’s a retired employee of the U.S. Forest Service and a graduate of the National Outdoor Leadership School.

So what might I be doing during my time in the wilderness that might negatively impact another visitor or wildlife?

Much of my time on trails is spent as a volunteer clearing fallen trees. We recognize that using a chainsaw is against wilderness regulations  — think of the loud, jarring noise that interrupts the wilderness feeling of solitude. The singing of our crosscut saws and pounding of wedges into a log are not as obtrusive, yet they could still bother someone out for a quiet hike or wildlife taking a mid-morning nap.

Our talking and laughing could also be a disturbance. I admit, we go over the top sometimes such as celebrating when we clear a particularly challenging tree. All in all, however, we try to minimize our impact by scheduling most of our workdays during the week when there are fewer visitors.

But our impacts are much greater when we take lunch breaks. Hikers often find us sitting trailside on the logs we cleared minutes earlier. If we were eliminating our visual and audio presence we would pick up our tools and have lunch well off the trail.

What are other examples of impacts in the present? Our Forest Service issued radios are constantly chattering with reports and coordination among crews throughout the district. But they’re a necessity for safety and we keep the volume turned low.

How about the use of other modern technology such as a GPS device or even a cellphone? They don’t fit within the traditional concept of wilderness. Yet, they’re considered acceptable by wilderness managers because of their safety nature.

I sometimes camp in the backcountry with an FOW work crew. Do we minimize or eliminate our impact in the present? I would say “yes.” We typically camp in a concealed location, well out of sight from the trail. And we rarely build a campfire whose smoke is a sign of human presence.

I once joined several friends in hiking 4 miles along a wilderness river corridor to view a beautiful waterfall. When we got to the base of the falls, we found a couple who had pitched their tent in the foreground, just a few yards from the water’s edge. Not only was our view spoiled, but we felt we were intruding on their privacy.

As Randolph asked me, I now ask and challenge you, “Can you feel the quiet when you’re the first one out there?” How can you minimize your impact in the present and share that same feeling of solitude?

Bob Korch is president and trail crew leader with Friends of Wilderness which assists the U.S. Forest Service in maintaining trails and educating the public about the Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and Flat Tops wilderness areas. For more information, visit friendsofwilderness.com.


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