This article previously appeared in the Fall 2017 Long Trail News.
Susan Winters and Daley Matthews-Pennanen, Wilderness Monitors:
“Sooo…what do you guys actually do?”
This is the question we’ve been working to answer since we arrived as wilderness monitors in May. But it’s a fair question, and one we have been slowly figuring out the answer to. The U.S. Forest Service introduced wilderness monitors to the GMC in 2016, creating an exciting opportunity for the organizations to work together. The program is new territory for both, so we’re doing our best to refine it.
The Forest Service manages eight designated wildernesses in the Green Mountain National Forest, which are a lot of territory for a small staff to look after. The Long Trail passes through six of the wildernesses, and GMC caretakers and trail crews work on the Trail and all its side trails. This creates a common interest in effectively fostering a wider appreciation for Vermont wilderness areas. Enter the wilderness monitors!
This season we are documenting and pulling non-native invasive plants from trailheads in Lye Brook, Big Branch, and Bristol Cliffs Wildernesses. We use ArcMap software and Garmin GPSes to document the plants we find and pull, which will help future monitoring of these sites.
We check and maintain wilderness privies, because properly managing waste is one of the most important things GMC can do to provide enjoyable experiences for hikers and protect sensitive land and water resources.
We record how many people and dogs we see to learn what populations use Vermont’s wilderness areas. And we have the pleasure of discussing Leave No Trace principles with those we meet.
We also visit shelters and tenting sites, both official and unofficial, and record how they are weathering the ever-increasing number of hikers using them.
We clear water drainages, clip and blaze trails, and clear blowdowns with folding saws, axes, and a crosscut saw.
Lastly, we keep our eyes open for items and structures that don’t belong in the wilderness. We plan to pack out an old privy composting bin and a makeshift shelter, and we ceaselessly dismantle unauthorized fire rings.
We are thrilled to have the unique job of wilderness monitors. The work is rewarding, and we are lucky enough to be able to shape this position so it will be even more effective in the years to come.
We hope to see you on the trail this fall so we can discuss the importance of wilderness and Leave No Trace principles!