Next time you get annoyed when a ranger asks you for your permit, sit back and think for a moment. Do you like to hike our local trails?
Look at the nice, smooth trail stretching out in front of you. It’s so easy to only see what is in front of us, and not all the hard (often hidden) work that has gone into the benefits we enjoy.
A trail is just dirt, right? How hard can it be to maintain?
Now, think about the damage just one winter season can do along a steep, heavily traveled trail: wind, rain, snow, and the treads of more than a 100,000 feet and hooves all coming together on a soft dirt surface.
Add to that severe erosion and washouts from even just a few people cutting switchbacks, rocks kicked loose by horses, the yearly overgrowth of thorny Chinquapin and manzanita, careless hands littering thousands of candy wrappers and, and, and …
Several thousand hours — at least — of trail work and cleanup each year are needed as a result of the above actions.
The trail may seem unchanged from season to season, but just a few years without rangers would be enough to make many trails difficult, some completely impassable.
Now consider this: Permits equal funds.
Areas proven heavily used will get the most maintenance funds. Your permit is like a vote that says: “I value this wilderness and I want it taken care of.” With federal funding priorities elsewhere, your permit is vital information to keeping our wilderness accessible.
Rangers are fighting a constant battle. Their duty is to maintain the wilderness’ character as it once was, protecting wildlife, holding the land wild and free in time, to give us an escape from the chaotic rush of the cities, a place to return to the peace and solitude of nature. All of this while managing access so it doesn’t turn into a trashy and trampled-down Disneyland.
With hundreds of trail miles, thousands (or more) of acres to manage, and a shoestring budget to work with, wilderness managers need to get creative.
They often use dedicated volunteer rangers and equestrians (such as the Forest Service Volunteer Association) as well as trail crews to keep the trail patrolled and maintained. But these volunteers need help — funds, resources and guidance from the U.S. Forest Service to do the huge amount of work required.
Next time you go to the trouble to get your (free) Wilderness Permit, take it with a different attitude.
Instead of feeling entitled and being annoyed at the inconvenience, be proud. Present it to the ranger with a smile. Consider it your own way of giving back.
Even without swinging a pick axe or hefting a shovel, you are contributing to keeping our local wilderness open to you and your family for generations to come.