Wilderness Wanderings: TLC for Mount Zirkel, Flat Tops and Sarvis Wildernesses | SteamboatToday.com

Wilderness Wanderings: TLC for Mount Zirkel, Flat Tops and Sarvis Wildernesses

Bob Korch/For Steamboat Today

Friends of Wilderness volunteers Rondell Ferguson, left, and Curt Rogers take a break from Ranger Academy to explore ruins at Mesa Verde National Park.

With all the current controversy over the newest designations for our public land — who wouldn't want another national monument — the volunteers who make up Friends of Wilderness maintain focus on taking care of some of the special places we already have around Steamboat Springs.

Through FOW's partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, we endeavor to provide boots on the ground stewardship for the Mount Zirkel, Flat Tops and Sarvis Creek wildernesses. This may include everything from maintaining trails and rehabbing illegal campsites to providing information to hikers.

But did you know that other regions aren't so lucky as to have dedicated trail stewards? Nationally, only one-quarter of the 157,000 miles of trail (hiking, biking, horseback riding, water, motorized) within our national forests are up to standard, according to a 2013 Government Accounting Office report.

But help is on the way. Passed with little fanfare by Congress in November, the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act challenges Forest Service officials to come up with a plan to utilize volunteers, outfitters/guides and other partners as a "Low-to-No New Cost to the Federal Treasury."

Fortunately, our local trails have a leg up on those in many other regions through partnerships with local organizations, such as FOW and the Trail Maintenance Endowment Fund, or TMEF.

So, why is all this important to us in the Yampa Valley? Very simply, we all need to do our part. Sign up to be a volunteer with the organization of your choice — hiking, biking, equestrian. Or make a donation to one of those organizations or the TMEF.

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But the most important thing you can do is to get out there and enjoy our public lands with the caveat of being a good citizen user.

Hike on designated trails only, without shortcutting, which causes erosion. Camp legally in the backcountry, meaning at least one-quarter mile from Gold, Gilpin or Three Island lakes and more than 100 feet from other lakes, rivers, streams and trails.

Other ways you can be a good steward of our wilderness is to leave no trace of your visit. If you pack it in, pack it out. You would be amazed at what we sometimes find abandoned and haul out from the backcountry — sport chairs, oven racks, tarps and even tents. And personal tissue — please, let's not go there!

Two of our newer FOW volunteers — Rondell Ferguson and Curt Rodgers — recently attended the week-long Ranger Academy held at Mesa Verde National Park.

The annual academy brings together a range of outdoor professionals and volunteers from across the Rocky Mountain region: from college age seasonal wilderness rangers, to scientists, to staff from BLM, National Parks and USFS.

Attendees received special training and education, including classroom-style exposure to the law, the science, the heritage and the politics of wilderness.

"It reinforced to me how important it is to preserve Wilderness," Ferguson said. "At all levels the message was 'Wilderness is a fragile resource that needs constant attention.'"

"There is an enthusiastic, capable and motivated new generation lining up to build on the great Wilderness work of their predecessors," added Rodgers.

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 in the Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek and Flat Tops Wilderness areas. For more information, visit friendsofwilderness.com.

Know before you go:

  • FOW hoped this week to have Gold Creek Lake Trail cleared of fallen trees, depending on lingering snow conditions.
  • Three Island Lake Trail is cleared for the first 2 miles. However, the upper portion is impassible to equestrians due to a large boulder and fallen trees on the trail.
  • Three Island Lake Spur Trail currently has 98 trees across the trail. The Forest Service crew hopes to clear it the week of June 19.
  • Hikers wanting to do the Zirkel Circle are advised to wait until July, as snow and high, swift stream crossings make it largely undoable at present.
  • For the latest trail conditions, review our blog at friendsofwilderness.com, or call the Steamboat office of the U.S. Forest Service at 970-870-2299.