Monday, November 11, 2019

Wilderness Stewardship Performance elements- "Trails"

“Our skills and works are but tiny reflections of the wild world that is innately and loosely orderly. There is nothing like stepping away from the road and heading into a new part of the watershed. Not for the sake of newness, but for the sense of coming home to our whole terrain. "Off the trail" is another name for the Way, and sauntering off the trail is the practice of the wild. That is also where -paradoxically- we do our best work. But we need paths and trails and will always be maintaining them. You first must be on the path, before you can turn and walk into the wild.” 
― Gary Snyder

Some of the attributes / data we were capturing. "Condition Class" was defined in more detail in the protocol. It was basically a summery of the erosion level of that section of tread.

For the "Trails" element of the Wilderness Stewardship Performance Measures, we were working on "User Developed Trails" with our first deliverable for this element being: "A documented protocol has been used to survey user developed trails in all 'priority areas' in this wilderness." So each of the four districts came up with their "priority areas" to survey based on combinations of: areas getting highest use, areas of most concern for being unsustainable/potential need for action to manage resource damage, and areas that are mostly likely to successfully track change over time.

I worked with rangers from another district to develop and write the protocol for the entire Wilderness. It was a fun challenge to try and put into words the ineffable and endless scenarios and issues that would come up in the field and trying to tackle them with a single  framework. How do you define where one trail ends and another begins? How do you create a meaningful naming convention? What defines a "user trail"?

a page from the protocol

After we wrote the protocol we had a day where all the districts met up to review the protocol and test the tablets and other devices we would be using to capture the data. The actual field data collection happened over the summer and varied from tedious to very enjoyable. For me personally it meant I got to survey user trails I had never been on which added some excitement to my patrols which are all places I have now been to many times. I also found in every single instance I would (later in my patrol) run into someone who has a question about the route I was surveying and of course it's always nice to be able to answer questions about a place instead of having to say "I haven't been there". So the project was good for doing what we need to be doing in terms of WSP, and good for gathering data so we can track change over time / inform management actions, but also for rangers to go to places we might not normally get sent to but where the public is going (even if it's infrequent) is also good to give us a more in depth knowledge of our districts.