Growing Friends of Wilderness group is devoted to caring for area out Steamboat’s back door |

Growing Friends of Wilderness group is devoted to caring for area out Steamboat’s back door

Keeping it 'wild' for the 'Boat

The heavy, wet snow that accumulated in the Park Range Oct. 2 brought down healthy trees, creating more volunteer work for Friends of Wilderness crews.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The group known as Friends of Wilderness has experienced growth during the past year with the nonprofit gaining 24 new volunteers to bring its total membership to 79 people who are willing to donate their time to protecting the three wilderness areas bracketing Steamboat Springs.

And that's a very good thing as trees are falling in the forest more frequently, which means more tree trunks have to be cut from popular hiking trails in the Medicine Bow Routt National Forest.

"We're reaching the point that all of the beetle-killed trees in the forest are starting to rot at the roots," longtime Friends of the Wilderness member Dan Schaffrick said. "They'll fall down if you look at them cross-eyed. Over the next few years, we expect a lot of those trees to come down."

Ironically, the heavy, wet snowfall of Oct. 2 brought down more trees but not the usual beetle-killed pines.

"That was a freak storm," Schaffrick said. "We went up the Gilpin Lake Trail last week to rehab one of the creek crossings, and we had to clear about a dozen trees in the first mile of the trail. The majority were healthy aspens with leaves on them."

The Friends of Wilderness collaborate with U.S. Forest Service personnel in the Hahns Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District headquartered in Steamboat, as well as with the Yampa District in South Routt and the Parks District based in Walden.

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Friends of Wilderness Board President Bob Korch reported this week that volunteers with the nonprofit worked a combined 6,387 hours in fiscal year 2017 compared to 4,818 in 2016. Along the way, they cleared 906 trees and rehabilitated 87 campsites.

Not all of the work is physical. Friends volunteers also contacted 3,269 day hikers and 878 overnight hikers in 2017, and in some cases, they answered questions, and in others, they educated their contacts on proper wilderness ethics.

Friends board secretary and training coordinator Gary Pon welcomes the younger adults coming into the organization.

"We're really pleased about this," he said. "Prior to this year, most volunteers were retired and (some) living in Steamboat part time. We’re trying to do more outings on weekends to involve younger working people. The entire board is really enthused about the interest we're seeing from a younger generation."

The Forest Service wants all of the Friends volunteers to be trained in first aid, and the group provides the life-saving education at no cost. Pon has the job of following up to make sure new members get their certification.

In addition to sawing tree trunks off of trails, Shaffrick said Friends members do some of the heavy work rehabilitating well-used campsites in the wilderness area where the native vegetation can take a pounding.

Friends volunteers will haul trash out of the wilderness, and although they dismantle fire rings at campsites that are closer to water bodies than the 100-foot limit, they understand the value of maintaining fire rings in legal campsites to minimize the spread of the impacts of camping.

"I've lived in Steamboat for 40 years — Zirkel and the Flat Tops are my backyard," Schaffrick said. "Hiking those trails for years to keep them open for the community and our visitors is very rewarding."

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1.

Friends of Wilderness scorecard:

6,387: Hours volunteered

34: Members who gave five-plus hours

906: Trees cleared

87: Campsites rehabbed

3,269: Day hiker contacts reported

878: Overnight hiker contacts reported

(Statistics are for the 2017 fiscal year ending Sept. 30)