Outdoor volunteer group comes to the ranger rescue

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE – An organization dedicated to protecting the region’s “backyard” is stepping up to provide volunteer trail patrols at the popular Hanging Lake area in Glenwood Canyon this summer.

In fact, that’s what the Carbondale-based nonprofit, the Forest Conservancy, has been doing for the past decade; helping bridge the gap where the U.S. Forest Service has had to make cuts due to budget constraints.

“We are a group of people who are just really passionate about the forest, and helping people to be able to enjoy the forest,” said Marcia Johnson, executive director of the 12-year-old Forest Conservancy.

Recently, the White River National Forest announced that an expected $3 million budget reduction this year will affect seasonal staffing for the summer.

The cuts will eliminate ranger patrols at the heavily visited Hanging Lake and Spouting Rock area.

So, the Forest Conservancy has been working with the national forest’s Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District to have a volunteer ranger patrolling the Hanging Lake trail every day this summer, Johnson said.

“Our organization is about citizens picking up the mantle and moving it forward,” she said. “This is our backyard, and we want to make sure we help protect it.”

Since 2001, the Forest Conservancy has been working to protect and preserve local forest areas by training volunteers to serve as rangers, ambassadors at busy destinations such as the Maroon Bells, and to help with basic trail maintenance throughout the White River National Forest.

“We have about 100 volunteers now, and are hoping to increase that number this summer,” Johnson said. “We tend to average about 15 to 20 new people every year.”

Last summer, the Conservancy’s volunteer rangers encountered nearly 25,000 visitors on the Hanging Lake trail alone, she said.

Just like official Forest Service rangers, the uniformed volunteers assist visitors on the trails, are trained in First Aid and CPR, conduct trail maintenance and provide education about the threats to an unmanaged forest, Johnson said.

The Hanging Lake area in particular has several restrictions that require regular monitoring. Among them are no dogs on the trail or at the lake, and no swimming or fishing at the lake.

Forest Conservancy volunteers cannot enforce the rules, however.

“We are educators, so what we do is explain to people why it’s important to follow the rules and to protect the resources,” Johnson said.

The Conservancy has a standing agreement with the Forest Service to report any major violations, she said.

To become a volunteer ranger, citizens can participate in the annual four-day training held in June. A volunteer orientation specifically for Hanging Lake will also be given.

Besides its volunteer ranger program, the Conservancy also raises funds for interpretive signage, and conducts educational programs such as campfire talks and guided hikes.

“All those things that forest rangers used to do on a regular basis, we now do,” Johnson said.

In addition, the Conservancy offers a more intensive certification training for those interested in becoming a master naturalist, Johnson said.

To register for volunteer training, or for more information about the Forest Conservancy, visit, or call 970-963-8071.