The idea for a nationwide network of wilderness volunteer organizations was hatched right here in Colorado, barely a decade ago. The catalyst was a small group of wilderness devotees, including this month's author Dave Cantrell. Today the mission of NWSA remains catalysis, as Dave writes, "connecting stewardship organizations with each other, linking our efforts and experiences, directing groups to resources, and fostering new organizations." At their recent meeting in Bend, Oregon, 250 attendees from 29 states, representing 80 different organizations gathered to pursue that mission with a rich assortment of speakers and activities. Read more below about how NWSA knits together the fabric of volunteer non-profit organizations, including us, into a wilderness preservation network.
Dr. David Cantrell
Programs Committee Chair
National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance
Advisory Board, Poudre Wilderness Volunteers
Starting with the formal: The mission of the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance (NWSA) is to develop a growing network of volunteer-based organizations to provide stewardship for America’s enduring resource of wilderness. We envision effective partnerships between community-based, non-profit wilderness stewardship organizations and all the government agencies charged with the management of our national wilderness areas. Our goal is to improve wilderness stewardship and create an allied constituency for wilderness by connecting stewardship organizations with each other, linking our efforts and experiences, directing groups to resources, and fostering new organizations.
One form of our outreach is to provide financial support and project guidance to groups. With generous help from members and from the Forest Service, we’ve allotted nearly $1,500,000 in the last three years to support boots-on-the-ground projects both in Designated Wilderness and on National Forest System trails. Because of the volunteer base behind projects, we’ve been able to return from 3:1 to 7:1 value on those investments in management of our wild places.
Our biggest effort is the National Wilderness Workshop. We alternate annual leadership with the Society for Wilderness Stewardship, which focuses on professional development of wilderness stewards, while we center our work on national support for volunteer-based efforts. With NWSA’s lead, this year’s National Wilderness Workshop was in Bend, Oregon, from October 23 to 26. What a turnout! We hoped for 150 participants, tried to cap enrollment at 200 because of available space, and ended up with more than 250 people, with 80 organizations represented, from 29 states + DC.
The theme was “The Path from User to Steward.” In support of that goal there were more than 60 presentations, as well as many information tables, and detailed information posters. Before the Workshop started, there were full-day courses on Wild and Scenic River management and on Justice, Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion, and a two-day Leave No Trace (LNT) Trainer course.
Along with the always fun Wild Olympics and the film fest, a new feature this year was tents! — a wilderness-appropriate response to the over-capacity enrollment. In three tents along the Deschutes River, we cooked and served great meals; gathered for presentations, awards and camaraderie; and heard cozy campfire talks. Thanks also to the Deschutes Brewery, who hosted us for an end-of-Workshop party!
A highlight in conjunction with the Workshop: More than 30 people from Back Country Horsemen of Oregon, and their horses and mules, provided demonstrations and presentations with traditional gear and techniques right next to our meeting area. A great way to get outdoors for a bit, and be reminded of the importance and pleasures of the hiker-stock partnerships that make for better work nationwide!
Three very special highlight speakers inspired and amused us: Leslie Weldon, from the Washington office of the Forest Service, discussed culture change in the Forest Service; Mario Mendoza, internationally classed trail runner, told how his experience running brought him to a deep enthusiasm for wilderness and the lessons it can teach; and Derek Lugo, author of The Unlikely Thru-Hiker, “one urban city kid’s journey along the Appalachian Trail on the path to becoming Mr. Fabulous,” managed to be hilarious, moving, and inspiring.
We capped off the experience with field trips into the Three Sisters Wilderness Area on the east side of the Cascades, including an opportunity to set foot on the Pacific Crest Trail. Fascinating to see and feel the difference from our home trails here in the Rockies! Every step of a whirlwind week was organized through the heroic work of NWSA’s Executive Director, Randy Welsh, with great support from the citizens of Bend.
The National Wilderness Workshop is an amazing experience. Of course the knowledge makes us all better stewards. But it’s the unequaled social and networking opportunities that we all remember. There are thousands of us across the country, expressing our love for our wild areas by helping take care of them. Meeting representatives from every corner of the country, we come away with a sense of a really grand enterprise, powered by individuals, supported by agencies and NGOs — a source of inspiration and optimism during these tough times for wilderness protection.
Plan now to come next year! The date (early October) will be announced soon and the likely location will be near Yosemite National Park. In 2021, when NWSA again takes the lead, we may meet in Roanoke, VA. In the meantime, you can learn more about this year’s workshop, keep in touch with the national wilderness stewardship scene, sign up for our newsletter, and join NWSA at http://www.wildernessalliance.org .
The website will also keep you in the loop about NWSA’s webinars: We have some great monthly presentations lining up for 2020, so stay tuned!
ABOUT DAVE CANTRELL
I was raised in the woods and water of Erie County, PA. In1952, my family drove to California — Mom didn’t want to lose a day of travel, so we started from the end of the Memorial Day parade, me still in my new Boy Scout uniform, and headed west. Almost certainly, it was climbing up US 40 towards Winter Park when two skiers (10th Mountain veterans?) came flying out of the woods and waved to us from the side of the highway. Images like that stick with a little boy, and after University of Michigan, four years in the USAF, some wandering in Europe, and ski-bumming in Aspen, I knew that grad school had to be in Colorado (Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology, Human Learning, and certification as a School Psych).
English professor Carol and I met at CSU, and raised two wonderful boys, with good help from Colorado’s natural world. I joined Poudre Wilderness Volunteers (PWV) in 1998, urged by a hiking friend, Jacques Rieux. Around 2007 or 2008, Chris Brown, who was then the Forest Service Director for Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers called Ralph Swain, knowing that no one worked as well with volunteers, with an idea: a national network of wilderness stewardship volunteers. “Anyone there who might like to help make that happen?” Ralph called Kevin Cannon, PWV’s liaison, and I said “Sure.” What a world to discover — amazing people from all over the U.S., working together to create a new national group. Quite a few thousand emails later, we met face-to-face in Fort Collins and the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance took shape, formed a Board, and started planning our first national gathering of the nation’s volunteer wilderness stewards.