Dedicated volunteers — many on horseback — assisting Forest Service in northern Colorado’s wilderness areas
March 8, 2014
Under the auspices of the Canyon Lakes Ranger District, the Larimer County group called Poudre Wilderness Volunteers has patrolled Roosevelt National Forest, the Pawnee Grasslands, Rawah Wilderness, Cache la Poudre Wilderness, Comanche Peak Wilderness area and Neota Wilderness areas in northern Colorado since the mid-1990s.
Unlike rangers, PWV members have no legal authority, but rather educate and assist wilderness visitors, leave no trace, and recognize the "authority of the resource", which is respect for the needs of the wilderness.
Mounted and afoot volunteers pick up trash, dismantle illegal fire rings, aid sick/injured hikers, riders, bikers and backpackers.
Livermore, Colo., residents Linda Sunday and husband Rick Black are two of the 100-plus PWV equestrian volunteers. Since 2008, the pair and their horses have ridden in some of Colorado's most desirable destinations to assist visitors and keep natural areas blight-free.
Sunday described some of the scenarios they encounter and solutions they're trained to provide.
Because usually out of cell phone range, PWV gear includes two-way Forest Service radios. In some areas, S.P.O.T. satellite system devices (which fit in the palm of the hand) are required equipment because of the perilous possibility of being struck by falling beetle-kill trees.
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Saws to clear trails of downed branches are also a necessity. Large trees present a weightier problem which requires a GPS unit and request for a Volunteer Trail Crew, also part of PVW, to remove the massive obstacles.
When patrolling areas that Australians would appropriately refer to as "back of beyond," appropriate supplies can mean the difference between life and death.
For example, Sunday is one of PWV's mentors (seasoned volunteers who work with new recruits). One May 2013 day, Sunday patiently waited for her assigned novice. After a lengthy time had passed, and with no cell phone bars available in the area, she gave up on the no-show and instead joined a group of riders heading out. As they rode along, a horse called "Rooster" lagged behind. When everyone stopped for a snack, the gelding showed signs of colic.
Intending to set a perfect example for her trainee, Sunday had packed certain equine first aid supplies she normally wouldn't carry. These included the drugs Banamine and bute, both commonly used to treat colic. After a dose of each, Rooster was able to make it back to the main trail. He was loaded up and trailered to the veterinary hospital at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Although Sunday never learned Rooster's fate, she was nevertheless glad she'd packed medications that gave him a fighting chance.
Who can best serve as a Poudre Wilderness Volunteer?
Because of the associated time and expense, most riders in their 20s or 30s are childless. Sunday and Black had delayed joining PWV until family and job responsibilities allowed. Many volunteers are empty-nesters or retired.
One gentleman is 83.
Many horse breeds, including Quarter Horses, Missouri Fox Trotters, Thoroughbreds and Arabians, are represented in the mounted group.
Sunday, age 66, proves age is no barrier for humans or equines. She rides Sydney, a 21-year-old Arabian mare; Black's gelding Candy, also an Arabian, is 22.
Sunday is glad to have older, seasoned, fit and calm mounts to ride in wilderness settings, where "unruffled" is an essential equine virtue– although motorized vehicles aren't allowed in most wilderness areas, riders frequently encounter mountain bikes, dogs off-leash, moose, and llamas used for packing.
"Horses can be very, very leery of llamas," warned Sunday with a knowing chuckle.
Stamina is a must for both walking and riding volunteers since the shortest trail is two-miles round trip and the longest covers a whopping 16 miles. Higher elevations can quickly sap energy. Depending on the particular trail, patrols take anywhere from two hours to a full day to several days requiring overnight camping.
New volunteers could soon be hitting the trails, as applications were due by March 1. Those selected must have a strong passion for the outdoors and for helping others, said Sunday, pointing out that a six-patrol annual commitment during the April through September season is required.
Following interviews, successful candidates attend a Spring kickoff night followed by a camp-out training session the weekend before Memorial Day weekend. Horses must complete a 'challenge', which tests mounts' reactions to barking dogs, bridges, blowing tents, approaching llamas, and more. "PWV is for people who want to hike or ride (in the wilderness) with a purpose," she said, adding, "Volunteering with them is the best thing my husband and I have ever done. I can't imagine not doing this." ❖
For additional information or to volunteer with PWV, call the Canyon Lakes Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service at (970) 295-6600, or visit the group's website, http://www.poudrewildernessvolunteers.com.