Spotlight: Grand County Wilderness Group protects wild places
The mission of the Grand County Wilderness Group is: “To Assist the U.S. Forest Service in the Preservation, Protection, Improvement, and Public Understanding of the Wilderness Areas in Grand County.”
The group was formed in the 1990s by two Grand County residents, Walt and Sandy Bobb. During their hikes in the area, they were struck by the amount of trash left by other visitors. They began to bring large plastic bags with them to pick up trash, carrying it miles to be disposed of properly. Walt decided to form a group that would assist the Forest Service by educating the public on protecting Wilderness and maintaining trails and campsites. In 1994, he placed ads in the newspaper, seeking like-minded individuals. As a result, four couples, including two Forest Service workers and two members from the Indian Peaks Wilderness Alliance, formed the Grand County Wilderness Group.
The group grew slowly and steadily. By 1997, there were 22 households on the membership list. Group members were trained on the leave no trace ethic and on how to effectively communicate with trail-users about no principles and wilderness regulations. Their emphasis was on education, not alienation. In the early days, members hiked and backpacked; they volunteered as trail ambassadors to disperse information and report trail conditions to the Forest Service. Members supported National Public Lands Day and collaborated with other organizations for a number of projects. The group worked on a section of the Continental Divide Trail from Junco Lake to Monarch Lake.
In 1998, Grand County Wilderness Group started working with the Headwaters Trail Alliance on the Fraser-Granby Trail and the Rocky Mountain Park-Grand Lake Trail, and adopted the Columbine Lake Trail. That summer, the group reported that members had hiked to 24 different destinations on 15 trails, including Vasquez Pass, which at that time did not have a trail over the last half mile to the Pass. Last year, coming full-circle, the group adopted Vasquez Pass Trail as part of the Headwaters Trail Alliance’s Adopt-A-Trail program.
In 1998, the group helped to staff the Monarch Cabin by filling in when the full-time staff were not available. That was the beginning of what remains the group’s biggest volunteer undertaking. Since then, the group has helped the Forest Service staff Monarch Cabin and Junco Cabin. Last summer, the group provided staffing three days a week at Monarch Cabin and two days at Junco Cabin. Last summer, over 27,000 visitors signed the registration box at Monarch Cabin.
In 2000-2001, the group tackled a big project at Junco Cabin, located past Meadow Creek Reservoir near Junco Lake. The trailheads to Columbine Lake and Caribou Pass both start at Junco Cabin. The High Lonesome Trail, which is part of the Continental Divide Trail, crosses right beside the Junco Cabin. The trail stretches from Canada to Mexico.
Junco Cabin was originally a guest cabin at the Double A Bar Ranch, then the Forest Service acquired the property. The Double A barn remained on the property. It’s now a picturesque site for weddings and other events. The cabins on the property were sold off, except for one cabin which was moved by the Forest Service in 1994 to its present location at Junco Lake.
Junco Cabin was intended to be used as a trail information center for hikers, but couldn’t be used by the public until an outhouse was installed. To address this problem, charter member Ed Jackson applied for a Great Outdoors Colorado grant.
In 2000, the grant was approved. The following year, Ed found an outhouse that was stored at the Williams Fork Campground. The vintage outhouse was transported up the road to the Junco site, where Fraser Crane lifted it on top of the hole that had been dug by Conroy Excavating. In addition to obtaining the grant, the group performed the required “in kind” voluntary services. In 2021, the group had a “Potty Party” with toasts and a Tuba solo by Roger Shaw. The Cabin and outhouse are still a welcome relief to visitors. The wilderness group continues to provide yearly maintenance.
Since its founding, the group has expanded its assistance to the Forest Service. In addition to trail maintenance, public education, and cabin hosting, Grand County Wilderness Group projects include: eradicating weeds around Monarch Lake (the group has been involved in this project every summer for over 20 years), monitoring osprey nests, making and cleaning bird boxes, and collecting and recycling trailhead registration boxes. A favorite activity of some members has been helping the Forest Service at the Smokey Bear section of the Christmas Tree cutting area.
As the name implies, Grand County Wilderness Group’s emphasis is on “wilderness.” There are five wilderness areas in Grand County: Byers Peak, Indian Peaks, James Peak, Never Summer and Vasquez Peak. Information about these Wilderness areas can be found on the Forest Service website under “special areas.”
Wilderness areas are created pursuant to the 1964 Wilderness Act, which established a National Wilderness Preservation System. The act states that wilderness areas are created “in order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States.”
“Wilderness” is defined as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain…an area protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.”
The act does allow recreational use of wilderness areas, but only “in such a manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness, and so as to provide for the protection of these areas.”
Except for minimal administration, or as required in emergencies, there is no use of motor vehicles or mechanical transport. In wilderness areas, you should find only visitors on foot or horseback, and find an opportunity for solitude.
To protect the wilderness environment and help ensure solitude for its visitors, the Forest Service has enacted various wilderness rules and regulations. Indian Peaks Wilderness is the largest wilderness area in Grand County, and has the greatest usage and regulations. Other wilderness areas have fewer regulations. All regulations are available on the Forest Service website FS.USDA.gov.arp. Click on “special places,” scroll down and click on “wilderness areas.”
Like last summer, the group is again looking forward to working with Headwaters Trail Alliance this summer to provide productive, enjoyable and safe volunteer opportunities that will benefit the Forest Service, the wilderness and Grand County.
The group will be scheduling hikes, conducting trail work and, of course, cabin hosting at Monarch and Junco Lake trailheads. If anyone would like to join or volunteer with Grand County Wilderness Group, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Beth Collins 970-531-6381.
There are many opportunities to give back to the beautiful lands Grand County residents call home.
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