by Eric Giebelstein, Wilderness Ranger
I'm so enthused to be back for my second season as a Wilderness Ranger for Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards. During my time with SAWS, I've covered a lot of land. Last year I was focused on Wilderness education programs in fifteen Wildernesses in the Cherokee, Chattahoochee-Oconee, Nantahala, and Pisgah National Forests. This year, my work is a little more focused. I'm monitoring for solitude, nonnative invasive species of plants, and water quality in six Wildernesses in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests in Virginia.
The first couple of weeks of my summer in Virginia was spent going over administrative protocols with our contact in the Forest Service, Mr. Pete Irvine. My coworker, Heather, and I learned about the Wildernesses on which we would focus our efforts, they include Rich Hole, Rough Mountain, and Ramsey's Draft, Saint Mary's, Three Ridges, and Priest. We then went into monitoring protocols for solitude, nonnative invasive species, and water quality.
When we were finally cut loose to our own devices, we spent a week exploring the monitoring areas in our Wildernesses. The great thing about the Wildernesses where we work is that they all have diverse and unique qualities. Priest and Three Ridges protect adjacent mountains that surround the Tye River. The Appalachian Trail runs them. Rough Mountain Wilderness protects the Rough Mountain while Saint Mary's and Ramsey's Draft protect the headwaters of their namesake rivers. Rich Hole also protects the headwaters of the North Branch of Simpson Creek.
Opportunities for solitude vary in each Wilderness. Rough Mountain provides the most outstanding opportunity. I don't expect to see a single person here this season. There is more sign of bear here than of humans. Between the broken limbs of service berry trees and the scat, it is clear who lords over this realm. It provides interesting management problems. There is only one trail in the Wilderness and the user has no access to it because private property surrounds the trailheads. There is public access, however, so the adventurous user can access the Wilderness by bushwhacking the ridgeline. In contrast to Rough Mountain, Saint Mary's is one of the busiest Wildernesses I've visited. A beautiful waterfall and refreshing swimming holes exist within a couple of miles of the parking lot.
I'm looking forward to an outstanding and rewarding season this year. It has already been great fun getting to know my Wildernesses and I'm excited to explore more. I can't wait to get back out and protect these wonderful wild places.