Photo by Benjamin Simpson.Wilderness stewards leave their mark (but no trace) posted on 08/01/2019
On July 20, as the country celebrated the 50-year
anniversary of the first human landing on the moon, wilderness steward Mike
Mathews spent the day beyond the wilderness boundary of the Paradise Park trail
from Timberline Lodge. Mathews’ mission was to monitor trail usage and instruct
visitors of policies that embody the “leave no trace” ethos of the 1964
Wilderness Act, enacted five years before man’s first steps on the lunar
“Wilderness value is determined by people enjoying and using
it,” said Mathews.
Mathews greeted visitors from foreign states and countries
as he continued his 18th year of service as an interpretative agent in the
wilderness areas of Mount Hood. The volunteer-based wilderness steward program
was established in 1999 as a key component of the Wilderness Protection Plan,
first implemented to address an increase in recreational usage of lands
protected by the 1964 Wilderness Act and to preserve wilderness values in the
Mount Hood, Salmon-Huckleberry, Hatfield and Badger wildernesses.
The stewardship program’s roots stem from environmental
impact surveys conducted by the U.S Forest Service that suggested recreational
access in these areas needed to be limited to a fee-based permit system or
monitored and instructed by a volunteer-based steward program to avoid further
degradation of existing wilderness areas. The program keeps access to the
wilderness areas open to the public without the need for permit-based access.
“We’re all visitors,” Mathews said about his mission to
inform hikers of low-impact recreational practices in wilderness zones.
Stewards patrol the trail systems and campsites and educate
guests of environmentally beneficial practices to implement while in wilderness
areas. Topics include garbage, human and animal waste disposal, fire prevention
and additional “rampant wear” caused by traffic outside of designated camp and
The stewards monitor trail usage to ensure that visitors
complete day-use permits for the wilderness areas. Additionally, Mathews noted
that 90 percent of the fees from the Northwest Forest Pass returns to the
district in which the pass was issued.
These fees are assigned to provide resources, including
trail and campsite maintenance and public restrooms, to trail systems according
to usage patterns monitored by the permits.
“We’ve got to keep the trails happy,” Mathews stated. “It’s
The stewards greet 6,000 people annually and hike a combined
2,000 miles of trail as a group each year.
Stewards also check for campfires left smoldering overnight
to prevent forest fires, provide first aid for hikers suffering from
heatstroke, hypothermia and other injuries, and act as liaisons with the forest
service and other authorities in case of illegal acts in the public wilderness.
The main goal of the program is to educate the public of potential
environmental impact and restore damaged wilderness areas.
“We’re here to tell people how special these places are and
how careful we have to be,” said wilderness steward Janet Tschanz, who has been
involved with the program since its inception.
Tschanz noted that over her twenty years with the program
she believes the stewards have made an impact preventing camping close to
rivers and lakes in the wilderness.
“When hikers camp too close they damage the water,” Tschanz
said, citing Burnt and Mirror Lake as sites impacted by recreational use.
Both stewards noted that continued public involvement and
enthusiasm for the wilderness stewardship program is integral for future
sustainable public recreation in the Mount Hood wilderness areas.
“Without (the steward program), life on the mountain would
be much different,” Tschanz said. “We’d probably have to buy permits to access
The 20 years of volunteer effort has allowed the forest
service to keep recreational access to wilderness areas around the mountain
open to the public.
“We could always use more people,” Mathews said. “The more
people volunteering the better.”
Training is required to participate as a wilderness steward.
All volunteers must undergo job hazard analysis safety training, radio use
training and instruction on managing public encounters. First-aid training is
also offered to participants.
More information about the program, including an application
for participation is a available online at
https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/mthood/workingtogether/volunteering. The public
is invited to email questions and applications to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Mount hood wilderness stewards can be followed on Instagram at
By Benjamin Simpson/MT