I was walking into a camp and having a wonderful conversation with two dads with their three combined sons in the forest for a day of fun. They had built a fire, were cooking and planning an overnighter. As we had this great conversation, my fellow ranger was taking the opportunity to spread a little leave no trace education with the young lads of these two fathers. She handed one a brochure and did a wonderful job talking with him about Leave No Trace. As we talked to the dads, who knew leave no trace and appeared to be seasoned hikers/campers, one of their young wards, who was the self appointed “fire tender” of the group took his newly acquired, wonderfully printed and quite informative document to guide him through his years of woodsmanship and proceeded to burn it in the fire 🔥right in front of us!! My fellow ranger, who had done a wonderful job with wilderness education, was looking on with a shocked and funny gaze. Did that just happen? She had that cocked eyebrow of where is his momma, help me here guys, bless his little heart…. she was in control!
Both Dad’s with that embarrassing “look” of “GREAT GOOGLY MOOGLY”…… “what has Festus done now?” We only relieved them when we made light and smiled with them….. This kid was so inspired to keep their fire burning, he probably would have fueled it with stock certificates and $1000.00 bills without a thought!!! Well Festus was not going to leave a trace and it was an epic encounter to likely be laughed about for years when we discuss the Leave No Trace field engagements with visitors amongst our volunteer rangers!!! It was so good that my fellow ranger, Annabeth, is so kind hearted and did not go “Southern Momma” on this young man with a switch! He was a wonderful and innocent young man doing what all boys do!
We are wilderness volunteers with Wild South, a wonderful alliance of people who love the wilderness and want to keep it pristine. Observing the human condition is one of the joys of being a ranger. We get to experience people at their most exposed with “them” against the wild. We just offer a hand to make their direction, stewardship and appreciation for the wilderness a bit more enjoyable. Do you ever wonder who cuts those trees to clear the path for you?, How much is that person compensated for providing maps, extinguishing left over fires, carrying out trash, leading educational hikes, and directing that lost hiker or camper who swears they are on a ridge a mile away. While Wild South has a small compensated staff, we are actually made up of volunteers who want to make the forest a lasting better place. The compensation is there, but it pays in satisfaction for a completed patrol where creating smiles is paramount in the forests that we love so much.
Being one of the “Guys” in this wilderness team, I must say that size and strength have nothing over willpower and determination amongst our team of dedicated men and women. I find it quite funny that when I have been on my patrols, as a new ranger, I am typically approached first for directions. This is quite funny because while I am comfortable with navigating the forest, I turn over my “man card” to one of our quite knowledgeable leaders. In my case, this has always been a woman patrol leader. I would say this is equivalent to me being a restaurant hostess handing them over to the server who will provide the real meat and potatoes in direction. Our team of men and women work together to utilize our best skill sets for each problem or opportunity we face.
On a recent trip, our leader, Mary, directed 4 different groups of people who stumbled across our lunch break. Some looking for a camp site, some looking for direction and a way out, some wanting to tell about their day and some very unprepared for their night stay. In each case, she brought some ease to each person with the greatest gift… the ability to listen and then to advise. I find this quite impressive in skill as mine is typically “What you eating for dinner folks?” and also walking up on the occasional protective dog 20 yards in front of their owners. I have become quite the dog whisperer….. so far. (i.e. leash your dogs please!)
When you are in a designated wilderness area, much of what you see around you would look much different if not for our country’s volunteers. The amount of trash is sometimes staggering. From micro trash, visitors attempting to burn trash in fires, completely abandoned campsites and other….. it must all come out. One of the best things a visitor to a wilderness can do is to carry all their trash out. Otherwise someone else will have to. The next thing you can do is keep your impact small by not cutting live trees or plants. It takes a lot of time for this life to come back and many times the plant life, such as the Eastern Hemlock, may be in distress due to insect infestation. Third, keep your camp fires small and when complete, you should fully extinguish and naturalize your campsite. It is amazing to see the number of fires left burning/smoldering and the large stacks of freshly cut wood that deteriorates the natural view.
So know that when you see us folks in our uniforms, regardless of the State, wilderness, forest and spot your in, know that we are there to keep the wilderness “wild”, for stewardship, and keeping it natural for generations to come.
See you in the forest,