Shadow stewards clean up campsites

JACKSON, WY — On what felt like one of the first hot, sunny afternoons of the summer June 28, Buckrail staff joined 20 other volunteers, Friends of the Bridger-Teton and the Bridger-Teton National Forest to help steward one of Bridger-Teton’s most popular camping areas and celebrate recent improvements.

Friends of the Bridger-Teton hosted the volunteers for the afternoon, and celebrated with a BBQ and “barley popsicles” (beer) when the work was done. Volunteers installed 17 newly-donated signs, cleaned and rebuilt 40 fire rings, put out four warm-to-touch fires, and mapped and pulled out piles of invasive species at Shadow Mountain.

Friends of the Bridger-Teton is a new nonprofit founded in October dedicated to providing BTNF with the support and resources they need to manage the millions of acres of National Forest that surround us in Jackson. They work closely with BTNF to address increasing visitor use at areas like Spread CK, Toppings Lake, and Shadow Mountain through signage, a volunteer camping ambassador program, and even portapotties at Shadow Mountain. On Shadow alone, the partnership has resulted in over 30 warm campfires called in and extinguished, hundreds of educational visitor contacts, and over a dozen portapotties worth of waste and toilet paper removed.

“This is a great way to increase ‘boots on the ground’ in the face of the BT’s shrinking recreation budget and staff capacity,” said Sarah Walker, Director of Friends of the Bridger-Teton.

If the idea of designated campsites at Shadow Mountain is unfamiliar, it’s because it’s brand new. Just two summers ago, camping at Shadow was primitive, dispersed camping — cars could pull up anywhere they could find, and there was nothing BTNF could do about it. But the impacts on the land were starting to become irreparable. BTNF started updating the motor-vehicle use map, which is required for the Forest to have, and underwent a public NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) in 2017. New laws now require campers park in designated sites, and for no longer than five days.

New signs are posted at each designated site on Shadow Mountain

The law only applies to cars, explained BTNF’s Blackrock District wilderness ranger Todd Stiles. You can pitch a tent anywhere, but if you’re going to park a car, you now have to be on a designated site. Sites are now numbered and marked with the yellow informative signs volunteers installed.

The newly-designated campsites became law last summer, but this is the first summer they’re really starting to implement and enforce it. The idea is to promote an attitude change from the top d0wn — basically, the nicer things look, the more inclined people are to take care of them, Stiles said. And BTNF wants to minimize human impact on the land as much as possible.

There are safety benefits to designated sites, too, Walker added. Campers can share their exact location and site with friends — or emergency responders if that becomes necessary. Volunteers and campers can also call in fires that have been left warm and unattended.

If the pilot program is successful, Friends of the Bridger-Teton hopes to continue supporting the program and even implement the model in other high use camping areas, like the Greys River Road.

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