When the trails we use to navigate the wild are in danger, we need to lend a hand to their recovery. Though the open air and crisp vegetation is loved by many, when our access to these lands are threatened it can be hard knowing where to start. Oftentimes, we need a little assistance turning our passion for the spirit of the wild into action.
When it comes to the beautiful and unkempt Montana backcountry, local non-profit Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation (BMWF) fills in the gaps. From laboriously rewarding trail work to passionate artist residencies, The BMWF’s main goal is to connect Americans with their wilderness heritage in one of the world’s most spectacular places – the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. When times are tough, BMWF brings in the volunteer hands needed to keep the trails we cherish in working order.
Montana’s 2017 fire season was heavy enough to be deemed the largest since 1910. Over 1.4 million acres were burned, landing the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex’s 3,200 miles of trails the number one spot on the US Forest Service’s priority list for trail work. This prioritization, though necessary, won’t do much more than (hopefully) inspire selfless citizens like yourself to pack up, head out, and give back by taking part in the ultimate recovery process.
The truth is that the shadow of the US Forest Service’s underfunded nature has been looming since BMWF’s start 22 years ago, when a group of concerned citizens noticed trails in disrepair or disappearing all together. Since then, maintaining this necessary part of the human spirit has been a daunting but rewarding task for the Foundation.
Recognizing the importance of increased funding is simple, but collecting the money to support the backcountry is nearly impossible. In 2016, Congress issued a mandate commanding the agency to “increase trail maintenance by volunteers by 100 percent within five years.” So far, the BMWF can’t financially push their trail work past its 40-crew limit.
“[People] have a huge support for public lands, but heartfelt support isn’t necessarily being felt as fiscal support,” said Jessica Shaw, BMWF’s Outreach Coordinator who pushes for grassroots advocacy to support her cause. She also labeled the support as “essential, every year.” In 2017, The Bob saw 336 volunteers pass through the Complex – a 10 percent increase from the previous year.
This year, sign-ups for the Field Season 2018 trips went live on March 1st. These trail “adventures” – also commonly known as trail “vacations” – vary in difficulty and do not require experience. Whether you’re a novice or an expert with cross-cut saws, axes, pulaskis, shovels, and loppers, the Bob Marshall field trips will create an opportunity for you. A complete list of excursion dates can be found at The Bob’s website bmwf.org/volunteer2018.
The Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation isn’t the only group through which to donate your time to these public lands. The Montana Wilderness Association offers trail maintenance trips in National Forests and Wilderness Areas across the entire state of Montana.
According to the Montana Wilderness Association, while 30% of Montana’s land is public, just 3.7% those lands are labeled capital-W “Wilderness”, referring to significantly unmodified lands that are officially protected by the Wilderness Act of 1964 (upon which Wilderness is defined much more poetically as “… an area where earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain”).
The MWA is embarking on 11 different trail maintenance trips this year in hopes of maintaining that sentiment, and the spots are quickly filling up. Like the BMWF, MWA is offering a wide array of excursions varying in difficulty, with the first trips taking off in early May and the latest lasting into September. Trips are labeled anywhere from “easy” to “very strenuous” but there’s good news for those who wouldn’t say physical labor is necessarily their strong suit.
MWA is also looking for camp cooks (meals are planned, ingredients are shopped for, and food is provided on every trip) and volunteer photographers who are ready to take their craft a little further into the backcountry. For more information about volunteering with Montana Wilderness Association, visit wildmontana.org.
Whatever your idea of a good time might be, consider for a moment the state of our public lands and what you might be able to do to help.
Take a hike and lend a hand. Your trails will thank you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joey Bulman is a full time student and writer originally from California who is making his mark on the Flathead Valley.