Will Merritt- Powell Trails Liaison
Lost Horse/Twin Lakes with Catrock
Nez Perce Clearwater National Forest
The times they are a-changing here in the Selway-Bitterroot. For me at least, this is a very transitional time of the season. The weather here seems to have taken pity on our smoke-filled lungs and has turned a bearing towards fall. Cool nights and crisp clean air have replaced the hazy heat of summer, and the dragon fly stove is heating tea water both morning and night now. It is my favorite time of the year. This is the time of the year when one chapter closes, and another begins. The Wilderness Ranger Interns that I had that pleasure of working with this summer have hung up the boots for the season and returned to school. It is somewhat of an abrupt change. One that comes with a lot of pride but also some sadness, knowing that my trail family has moved on, and I must continue without them. And while I am excited and looking forward to joining a US Forest Service crew for the remainder of the year, I feel the need to reflect and digest the intern season.
Luckily, I had the pleasure of co-leading a volunteer hitch this past week, which turned out to be the perfect medication to aid the reflection digestion of the intern season. A program based in Bronx, New York called Catrock (a part Sierra Club and Inspiring Connections Outdoors- New York) brought 6 urban youth (ages ranging 16-18) out to the wild, wild west of Montana/Idaho to experience Wilderness for the first time. Led by two fantastic individuals, and with the help of my co-workers, Natalie and Courtney, we were able to open a whole new world to these young adults. Coming from the concrete jungle, where sunset skylines are an impressive testament to the ingenuity and innovation of the human race, out to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, where the only light that may impede your star gazing is that of the full moon, served to be life changing experience for them. Upon arrival, there was minimal knowledge about public lands in general, only a shy curiosity for this new landscape. By the end of the trip, each one could not only explain what capital W Wilderness means, but why it is worth defending. They even could recite the 5 qualities of Wilderness character that Wilderness managers are tasked with conserving. Although important and extremely helpful, these volunteer trips are never about the work accomplished. The most important thing is having a positive, meaningful experience in the undeveloped. An experience of solitude, one detached from the technology of society, which allows for a genuine connection with natural.
Edward Abbey is quoted as saying " The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders." Creating stewards of the land, who can draw from their own "boots on the ground" experience is exactly how we create new defenders. So on the last day of the trip, when I posed the question "Who owns this land?" I received a battle cry style response of "WE DO", from every single one of them. I knew we had 6 more young defenders. And as I watched this transition happen in a matter of 9 days with these youth from the Bronx, I was left reflecting on the same transition through the first 3 months of the season with the SBFC Wilderness Ranger Interns. The interns, although they came in with an already strong base of knowledge and passion for conservation, went through the same transition. And left the Idaho/Montana backcountry with countless memories and experiences that will help fuel their fight in defense of Wilderness.