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End of Year Updates

Dear SAWS family and friends,

As we approach the end of 2020 and celebrate our 10 year anniversary, I am so grateful for our SAWS team, for our many partners and supporters, and for outdoor places and wild lands. SAWS was honored to receive two national and one regional wilderness stewardship awards this year, and we deeply appreciate the trust and support of our partners and peers. Together, we accomplished work that was meaningful and impactful. For example:

  • We helped to assess safety risks and reopen public lands that were impacted by staff and volunteer reductions during COVID-19 and by multiple weather events in our region. Our work in the field supported equitable access to outdoor spaces for people and communities during the pandemic, and helped to care for the sustainability of our trails and public lands.

  • We provided meaningful jobs for dozens of SAWS staff, safely deploying field crews, wilderness rangers, and wilderness specialists and adding to our core SAWS staff team to improve our ability to connect with partners and communities.

  • We supported our partners and built our virtual community, contributing to strong relationships with our local, regional and national partners, including the U.S. Forest Service, the National Forest Foundation, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance, and many other nonprofit, foundation, business and community partners.

  • We embraced the call to act in response to the movement for racial equity, investing in the individual, organizational, and structural work that needs to be done to acknowledge and address systemic racism in the outdoors and create meaningful change.

More details about our work in 2020 and over the past 10 years are below: we encourage you to read on! We are especially excited to invite you to visit our new website, where you can learn more about who we are, where we work, and what we do. Explore our 10 Year Storymap and resources like our JEDI Resources and Arts and Wellness pages, and let us know what you think!

Most importantly, thank you for being a part of the SAWS family.

We could not do this work without your support. We look forward to building on our work together and continuing to make a difference for people, communities and wild lands in 2021!

Best wishes for a safe, healthy and happy New Year,

Meryl and the SAWS Team


10 Year Anniversary

Over the past 10 years, SAWS and our partners have worked to safeguard some of the wildest and most important natural landscapes across the mountains of Southern Appalachia and helped to ensure the protection of wilderness character and the health of these special places. Our shared work has supported trail safety and access, community connections, and learning and inclusion in the outdoors; increased stewardship capacity across our region; and helped to train and develop the next generation of conservation leaders and professionals.

We are particularly proud of:

  • 10 Years of successful Wilderness Skills Institute Partnerships

  • Broadening our programs to include wilderness character monitoring, successful partnerships with the U.S. Naval Academy, increased sophistication and growth of our field crew programs, our work with communities, and our work towards justice, equity, and inclusion in the outdoors

  • Growing our footprint and expanding our impact to eight states and ten national forests

  • Contributing 141,000 hours of wilderness stewardship service Educating 50,000 people about wilderness and stewardship

  • Hiring and training 300 individuals Adding $3.5 million in stewardship and capacity to the National Wilderness Preservation System in the South

  • Being a consistent and trusted partner for the U.S. Forest Service and our peers in the region

  • Receiving two national awards for wilderness stewardship

To learn more, check out our 10-year story map here.


Visit Our New Website!

SAWS is excited to announce the launch of our brand-new website! We have updated our website to reflect our 10 years of wilderness stewardship and better share our stories and impact throughout our footprint. As we continue to build our website, we encourage you to view it on a desktop as we work to make improvements to the mobile experience.

Unique Features

  • Arts and Wellness Page, including backcountry recipes, wild yoga, inspiring music, and more

  • Our Blog and other Stories, including messages of impact from former SAWS staff

  • Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Resource Page and links to other organizations doing great work in this space


Staff Updates

We have welcomed Kaitlin de Varona as a Program Manager. Kaitlin was promoted after working for four years as a Wilderness Specialist and serving as a member of the national team of wilderness experts focused on wilderness character monitoring. Kaitlin will be leading the team of wilderness specialists in completing baseline assessment reports and other management documents across the footprint, and continuing to serve in her national role.

We would also like to introduce our new Partnership and Community Outreach Coordinator, Leandra Taylor, to the team. Leandra joined the team in August after working as the coordinator for a community coalition, based in Albuquerque, NM, focused on environmental education and youth employment. She will focus on establishing and building meaningful relationships with Black, Indigenous and People of Color-led organizations and with gateway communities to increase access and equity to the outdoors and job opportunities in conservation.

Learn more about Our Team


Field Crews Update

The field crews finished up their seasons late last month. Their work ranged from post-wildfire recovery work in the Cohutta and Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wildernesses to building a brand new trail in Linville Gorge Wilderness that will connect the Mountains to Sea and Linville Gorge Trails.

We finished up our season by sending everyone down to Louisiana to respond to hurricane damage in the Kisatchie Hills Wilderness. Two hurricanes—Laura and Delta—did significant damage to the Kisatchie National Forest, shutting down most trail systems across the Forest, including trails in the Kisatchie Hills Wilderness. In 6 days, they had the 10 miles of wilderness trails cleared and ready for the public to safely use.

We had an incredibly successful season this year, despite the challenges associated with COVID-19. Here are some of the numbers to share with you:

  • Worked in 17 Wilderness areas in 6 states

  • Cleared 2,564 trees from the trail

  • Brushed 38.6 miles of trail

  • Built 290 drainage features

  • Constructed 4351 feet of new trail in Linville Gorge Wilderness

  • Repaired and nearly 6000 ft of existing trails

  • Closed a half mile of unsustainable social trails

  • Removed 30 pounds of trash (in addition to carrying all their tools!)


Wilderness Ranger and Specialist Update

This year we had two Wilderness Rangers and nine Wilderness Specialists working across all eight states in our bootprint.

Our Wilderness Specialists are wrapping up their field work as winter closes in, having completed:

  • Recreation site monitoring,

  • Trail assessments,

  • Solitude monitoring,

  • Non-native invasive species surveys and

  • Visitor education in the field

Moving into winter, they'll continue to work on Wilderness Character Monitoring Baseline reports, coordinating with the FS to gather data and expertise, and developing management plans for 23 wilderness areas across the footprint.

Our two Wilderness Rangers spent the year working in Linville Gorge, Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wildernesses in North Carolina.

By the numbers:

  • 3,362 visitors engaged

  • 14.9 miles of trails brushed

  • 123 trees removed from trails

  • 200 ft of tread repaired

  • 16 fire rings cleaned and reduced

  • 56 campsites cleaned and reduced

  • 11 abandoned campfires put out

  • 726 lbs of trash removed

  • Documented a continued decrease in bear-human interactions in Shining Rock, due to increased bear cannister use

  • Assisted Haywood County Search and Rescue with one incident

  • All trails were assessed for maintenance needs in Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wildernesses

Linville Gorge Information Cabin

Normally we operate the Linville Gorge Information Cabin in North Carolina, where visitors come to get information about Linville Gorge, Wilderness, and Leave No Trace; and we issue overnight camping permits for the Wilderness. The information cabin is typically open and permits are required on weekends and holidays March 1st – October 31st. This year with COVID restrictions, the cabin was closed and our Cabin Hosts became a field-going Cabin Crew, led by our Linville Gorge Wilderness Ranger. The Cabin Crew worked to maintain trails, remove trash, and educate visitors in the wilderness. By the end of their season, they brushed the entire length of the Linville Gorge trail from top to bottom!


Partnership and Community Outreach

Our Partnership Coordinator spent the last quarter of the year meeting our staff and partners and working with the SAWS team to gain an understanding of our current partnerships and collaborations. She identified goals that align without reach objectives including:

  • Mapping visitor use access and identifying other use demographic data

  • Creating a framework to build upon current and future partnerships

  • Establishing new relationships with potential partners and with community organizations

  • Identifying key organizations and communities to engage to support BIPOC-led work

  • Creating a space for trust and understanding between community leaders to better understand barriers to experiential access and equity

In the next 6 months we will continue to pursue our goals by:

  • Expanding our outreach to attract a diverse pool of applicants for our 2021 seasonal positions and for skills-based trainings, enabling us to engage students and young professionals in building careers in conservation;

  • Developing new relationships and deepening existing relationships with partners and communities to build trust and understanding, with the goal of shared knowledge, resources and stewardship;

  • Working with the Forest Service to understand and map systemic barriers of access to public lands for historically marginalized communities;

  • Supporting JEDI training with the Forest Service for federal and partner staff who work on conservation and recreation in the region;

  • Engaging with communities to build transformative relationships based on their priorities, and bridge the access gap through education, awareness, and experiential opportunities in wild places


Your Support Matters

Our work this season improved access to wild places, the sustainability of trails across our landscape, and the preservation of wilderness character in these special places. It is clear that equitable, safe access to public lands is necessary for mental and physical health and community well-being. We are happy to see so many new visitors to our wild places: our partners at the U.S. Forest Service have been reporting 200% increases, with some places seeing even higher numbers of visitors.

Increased visitation does mean there will be even more work to do in 2021! We need your help to support positive wilderness experiences and care for our public lands and resources. Your donation makes it possible for us to put boots on the ground and ensure our wilderness areas are safe, accessible, equitable and available for the next visitors and the next generation.

We depend on your support: please consider a donation to SAWS today to support our work in 2021!

Check out our Facebook fundraiser here or visit our Donate page to contribute today.

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