NWSA plans to use this space to profile many of the wilderness stewardship groups around the country. This month we start with Heart of the Gila.
Heart of the Gila provides stewardship for the Gila and Aldo wilderness areas in Southwest New Mexico. They are fortunate to be located in the little hamlet of Gila Hot Springs, in the heart of the nation’s first wilderness at the headwaters of the Gila River. This summer, they received their first NWSA grant in partnership with the Wilderness District of the Gila National Forest. Their project, “Wilderness Restoration and Resilience of Canyon-Riparian Flora: Educating, Stewarding and Protecting Wilderness Character”, put more than 40 volunteers, ages 8-80, on the ground, devoting more than 400 hours to the removal of non-native plants from a diverse set of Gila wilderness canyons. These workshop-oriented service days also focused attention and education on the incredible floral biodiversity of the Gila. The project included a cooperative National Public Lands Day event with the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, called “From the River to the Stars” where participants removed non-native plants along the Gila River, took tours of the cliff dwellings, and enjoyed an astronomy program under the stars.
Other projects by the organization include their Heart of the Gila Trails Partnership, which this summer maintained over 50 miles of trail with its partners, including the new alternative CDT route along the Middle Fork of the Gila River. Heart of the Gila also advocates for wild and scenic designation for the Gila River, and was founded to celebrate the life of Ella Jaz Kirk, a young Gila river advocate, whose spirit lives on in their service to New Mexico’s wild places.