Cross(cutt)ing Colorado With a Saw Built for Two

Learning to Cross-Cut (SCA’s Maggie and David I am writing this blog from a couch in my U.S. Forest Service bunkhouse here in Summit County, CO. It feels good to rest on this soft surface with my feet up, as my bones are aching from all of the hiking that we do here. Even so, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. Summit County is mostly known for its quality ski resorts here in the Rocky Mountains. Within the immediate area there are Keystone, Copper Mountain, and Breckenridge. Drive a little bit further and you’ll arrive at Vail and Aspen. I’m here for my SCA internship during what is considered the ‘off-season’ by many ski enthusiasts, but I remain spellbound by the dramatic scenery. My summer has been a sensory juxtaposition of high-alpine lakes, colorful wildflowers, and rugged mountaintops. As a Wilderness Ranger Intern for the Dillon Ranger District, our job has consisted of three main duties. The first of these duties is clearing trails with a cross-cut saw, as chainsaws and other mechanized equipment are not allowed in designated Wilderness Areas. Alongside that, my partner and I have worked on clearing established fire rings that are too close to lakes or trails and educating the public about U.S. Forest Service regulations. On some days we have even joined the Trails Crew to help with building new trail, enhancing existing trails, and hanging signage.<p>My favorite part of this internship (besides hiking in beautiful scenery) is probably cross-cutting trees to clear trails. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s a devastating bark beetle epidemic swept through Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming. The White River National Forest (our forest) was greatly affected by this as well. The beetles ate through and killed many Lodgepole Pines up here, rendering these once thriving evergreens into masses of arboreal skeletons that stretch out for miles at a time. The end result of this infestation has been that our mountain trails are now littered with tree carcasses. That is where we come in; as we patrol these forest trails we clear many of these downed trees to make the hike safer and easier for our forest visitors. Cross-cutting is actually a lot easier than I had anticipated it to be. For those who aren’t familiar with it (as I wasn’t when I started), a cross-cut saw is one large saw that can be pulled back and forth by two people who stand on opposite ends of the saw. There is a certain technique to doing this, but if balanced and pulled correctly by two people, the sawing is generally not very labor intensive.

Welcome to the Southwest Wilderness Rendezvous

Our group was lucky enough to receive our Cross-Cut Sawyer certifications at the Southwest Wilderness Rendezvous in Kaibab National Forest, AZ back in early June. The Kaibab National Forest is only about 20 miles away from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon so on our last day we were able to stop at Grand Canyon National Park. In another positive turn of events we soon realized that we had also stumbled upon the annual Grand Canyon Star Party. This is an event in which seasoned astronomers set up high-powered telescopes on the patios of the visitors centers in order for visitors to view cosmological wonders. The other SCA’s and I were thrilled to see Saturn through these telescopes as well as some star clusters.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon at Sunset

All in all, this summer has been jam packed with outdoor activity in some staggeringly beautiful landscapes. As Wilderness Ranger Interns, my partner and I have learned a lot of interesting facts about the wildlife in this area and the consequences of human impact. For example, we educate people not to camp within 100 feet of our sub-alpine lakes or to start campfires within a quarter mile of these lakes or above treeline. These are not just regulations, they are ecological necessities that help to conserve these natural areas, as it is harder for vegetation to recover in riparian zones near these lakes and in alpine tundra above treeline.

^^Campfire Ring that we took out

We’ve learned to identify Ponderosa trees by smelling their bark (which smells just like butterscotch!) and that the invasive weed known as ‘Houndstongue’ smells just like peanut butter. We’ve seen pikas, marmots, ermine, deer, a huge herd of elk, mountain goats, and even a Golden Eagle that swooped in above our heads at Chihuahua Lake. I’ve learned skills to use when backpacking in the Wilderness, swapped many campfire stories, and worked on mastering Leave No Trace ethics. If anything, this experience has only further confirmed my goals of working in the areas of preservation and natural resource conservation. The fresh air, the warm sun, my heartbeat as I hike up a steep mountainside, all help to establish in my mind that this is where I want to be, this is how it feels to really truly live, this is what good work is. As many have said before me, I am grateful for this experience and only hope that there are more to come beyond this horizon line. Until next time!

Tree that we cleared: it fell right down Mirror Lake Trail.