Wilderness areas comprise 139,461 acres of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. We work in all of them: Stone Mountain, Lewis Fork, Little Wilson Creek, Raccoon Branch, Little Dry Run, Beartown, Garden Mountain, Hunting Camp Creek, Kimberling Creek, Peters Mountain, Mountain Lake, Brush Mountain, Brush Mountain East, Shawvers Run, Barbours Creek, Thunder Ridge, James River Face, Rich Hole, Rough Mountain, Saint Mary’s, Three Ridges, Priest, and Ramseys Draft. We also work in the Mount Pleasant National Scenic Area and Laurel Fork Special Biological Area.
Home to SAWS’ satellite office in Roanoke, we have worked with the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests since 2014, when we fielded a pair of wilderness rangers there. Since then, our relationships have deepened and our presence has grown.
We base our US Naval Academy Crew partnership out of the Roanoke office, where the crews split their efforts between the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests and the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. To date, the Naval Academy Crews have completed 8 large-scale projects in six wildernesses, one National Scenic Area, and one Special Biological Area in Virginia. In addition, the crews lead some of our volunteer efforts, resulting in community engagement and completion of additional small projects to protect access, make trails more sustainable, and remove human-made structures from the wilderness. For these projects, we partnered with chapters of the Back Country Horsemen of America from Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.
Virginia is unique in our footprint in that it has the most wilderness areas—24 individual wilderness areas, 23 of which are managed by the Forest Service. Since 2014, we’ve put boots on the ground in all 23 wilderness areas with our wilderness ranger program. Our wilderness rangers have interacted with and educated thousands of visitors in these wilderness areas, collected social and biological data, and started partnerships with universities, engaging their students in wilderness and Leave No Trace education and service days. These volunteer service days include removing graffiti, cutting back brush from trails, blocking illegal social trails, and removing trees from the trails with crosscut saws. Our rangers also engage in community events across the Commonwealth including Roanoke GoFest.
Our wilderness specialists have been working in Virginia since 2018, working with Forest Service staff to develop Wilderness Character Narratives and Baseline Assessment Reports in 16 wilderness areas. These reports help the Forest Service manage wilderness to preserve its wilderness character, the principal mandate from the Wilderness Act.
Since opening the office in 2017, SAWS has deepened its relationship with the George Washington & Jefferson National Forests and several stewardship and advocacy-focused organizations including Friends of Shenandoah Mountain, several Appalachian Trail maintaining clubs, Virginia Wilderness Committee, Wild Virginia, and the US Naval Academy.