A blog by Danny and Janine
“I think we can carry four, if not eight per person.” Said Nate Conners as we stood looking at a pile of black plastic water bars. These commonly seen trail structures were deemed unsuitable in a Wilderness area by Wilderness Ranger Kerri Gunderson, who accompanied us on our service trip to the Mission Mountains Wilderness. This weekend was dedicated to removing as many of these deceptively light-looking structures from a trail about 5 miles within the Wilderness’ Eastern boundary.
Although Wilderness trails are maintained for human use, managers use natural materials whenever possible to maintain the Wilderness character of an area. These water bars were durable, but jeopardized the “primeval character and influence” outlined in the Wilderness Act.
In keeping with the Wilderness Act, our class was tasked with hiking out 26 of these water bars. Since mechanical devices are not allowed in Wilderness and we didn’t have any horses, each was carried out by hand. Shoulders chaffed and hips bruised, but creativity flourished as twenty-five-pound plastic bars were pulled, dragged, and man/womanhandled out of the woods. Over the two days of work, the group experienced a range of emotions. When cheers accompanied the final water bars as they emerged from the Wilderness, it was clear everyone had a better understanding of human-powered work.
During our few hours of hiking, we travelled along the shores of ice crusted mountain lakes, through yellowing foliage, and over snow covered saddles. Whether laughing, talking, or walking in silence, we all had the opportunity to enjoy the Mission Mountains in the midst of fall. The experience raised many questions about the stewardship of Wilderness and what role humans play in these wild places.