Val Silva laughs when she recalls a child asking “Who planted all these trees? It was the first time the youth had been in a national forest. As Executive Director of the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association (SGWA), Silva has gotten used to such questions. The group annually hosts a festival which brings more than a hundred urban youth and their families to the San Bernardino National Forest for a day of fishing, hiking, picnicking and more.
SGWA supports the efforts of the forest staff with volunteer information specialists, naturalists and rangers.
An annual film festival reaches out to the broader community. Of their 200 members, President Val Silva says 60-70 are very active.
“I can’t stop them. It used to be that in the winter we had time to breathe and catch up but now our volunteers keep us going with ideas they want to do all year long,” she notes.
During the winter, the group continues patrols and trail maintenance in lower areas not covered in snow, and conduct trail inspections (called INFRA) that the agency just can’t get to.
“We’re asked to document the infrastructure of one fifth of the trails in the wilderness every year, about 20 miles yearly,” she says. “Once that’s complete, some of our volunteers have been documenting the same things on the Pacific Coast Trail outside the wilderness. With this data, the agency can determine where work is needed for budgeting trail funds.”
SGWA has had a series of Wilderness50 celebrations, beginning with a Forest Festival in August and ending with National Public Lands Day and a Wilderness 50 celebration in late September.
The group won a grant from the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance and the Forest Service to construct a kiosk at the Momyer trailhead in the San Gorgonio Wilderness. SGWA partnered as they often do with the Urban Conservation Corps of San Bernardino, engaging 16 youth people.
“The first day was devoted to site preparation,” notes Silva. “The site is set on boulders the size of cars, so once the old sign and posts were removed the volunteers had to use jackhammers to set the new posts. I’m pretty sure these signs will be there over the next fifty years.” On day two the group installed shingles on the roof of the kiosk, stained it and did trail maintenance.
On the third day the youth were treated to a presentation about the history of the San Gorgonio Wilderness and specifically about the work of the late Joe Momyer who led the effort to win wilderness designation for San Gorgonio.
“It was moving to witness a living timeline of wilderness protection at that event,” Silva points out. “Harry Krueper, a friend of Joe Momyer and someone who worked on the original designation fifty years ago, represented the past. SGWA and U.S. Forest staff represent the present, and the youth from Urban Conservation Corps represent the promise of wilderness protection in the future.”
Youth assisted SGWA volunteers in constructing and installing the kiosk. They assisted with planning, determining materials needed, building the kiosk at a work center and moving it and installing it at the Momyer Trailhead. The youth helped work on the trailhead parking area and trail to remove debris caused by a flash flood the previous month. It was the first kiosk that SGWA has constructed.
”We planned several W50 events,” explains Silva. “But this one helped our volunteers to exhibit their craftsmanship skills and allowed the youth to learn some new skills.”
Silva said one of the challenges of the kiosk build was determining what information to place on the sign. The group worked with the forest archeologist who provided historical content and conveyed the need for an enduring wilderness.
“Now that we’ve had this experience, we’d love to do more,” Silva exclaims. “It’s a great way to build skills, confidence and community. And we certainly have the need for more trail signs and kiosks.”