Wilderness lovers are invited to put that love into action via group stewardship projects this summer and fall. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance invites volunteers to experience the unique beauty of the area while doing hands-on projects that restore and protect important natural and cultural resources.
The mission of the stewardship project program is to “foster a stewardship ethic and promote service as recreation in Utah” and projects include everything from litter pickup to trail maintenance to fence repair. The projects are coordinated with local branches of land agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
Jeremy Lynch, the stewardship director for SUWA who organizes the projects, said he’d love to see more Grand County residents involved with the projects, especially younger folks.
“It’s close to home, it’s a really good time, and you learn a lot about public lands in the process,” he said.
He added that families are welcome and some have taken part with children as young as 5 years old, though projects vary in physical intensity and some are more suitable than others.
The projects are not limited to area residents, however; SUWA’s website encourages visitors to utilize the stewardship projects for a “service-oriented vacation.”
The next stewardship event is in the La Sal Mountains southeast of Moab on Aug. 8 and 9. Coordinating with the Forest Service, volunteers will clean up damage caused by non-permitted camping and travel, and prevent further damage by adding natural barriers, such as felled Aspen trees, to delineate travel areas.
Volunteers will camp overnight and must provide their own gear. While the group would normally enjoy shared meals, due to safety precautions put in place in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, campers must bring their own food and drink.
Lynch said the pandemic has led to some stewardship projects being canceled, though more trips that can happen safely are being planned.
“Safety is always the first premise of everything we do,” he said, adding that there are “a slew of protocols in place” that govern travel, tool disinfection, and the use of face masks and other protective gear.
“We can give you a really cool ‘Protect Utah’ bandana” to use as a mask if needed, Lynch added.
There will be another service trip from Aug. 17-23, the High Uintas Wilderness Service Week. This trip will focus on repairing damage done by non-permitted camping around mountain lakes and preventing further damage with the installation of signs and natural physical barriers.
Lynch said one technique the group will use is to plant downed branches in spaces where people have been traveling illegally so it is no longer interpreted as an access route, yet maintains its natural appearance. Lynch said keeping further non-permitted disturbance from the area will allow the land to heal itself.
“We’re always trying to push back against the impacts while allowing legal activity,” Lynch said.
He added that the stewardship projects cannot make people follow the rules, but can encourage them to do the right thing and dissuade them from doing things that will cause damage.