It's been well over a year since I've worked in Wilderness.
Back in 2012, my work with The Wilderness Society's Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS) program was filled with great times in amazing places. Fellow rangers Ryan, Stephen and I spent our days in Middle Prong, Shining Rock, Linville Gorge and Southern Nantahala Wilderness areas. We would rehabilitate campsites, talk to visitors, haul out trash and complete campsite inventories, among other things.
The SAWS program is dedicated to providing land stewardship to areas designated and managed as Wilderness in the National Forests in the Southern Appalachian region. SAWS was created to support trail building and maintenance by employing crews that engage young people in caring for Wilderness.
When my season with SAWS ended in 2012, I found myself employed in another field I am passionate about: whitewater kayaking. I spent most of 2013 building kayaks in a factory just outside of Asheville, North Carolina. While I truly love paddling, I soon realized that the factory life was not for me.
Now I am back again as a Wilderness Ranger with more purpose and enthusiasm than ever! For the next year I will be working in the Ellicott Rock Wilderness. Ellicott Rock resides directly on the convergence of the North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia state lines and is the only Wilderness area to straddle three states.
I began my work on Monday, June 2nd with a week of backpacking to familiarize myself with the area. Returning to work as a Wilderness Ranger brought with it a couple realizations. First, I am not quite as in shape for hiking as I have been in the past! As I write this, my leg muscles are sore and my feet are blistered. But I'm sure the miles will get easier with time.
Another realization this week was about what I've been missing over the last year. The wildlife, the solitude, the raw beauty of Mother Nature - these are the best benefits of working in Wilderness. I had almost forgotten my love of these things during my time at the factory.
An experience early in the week really brought this to my attention. On the first night, I quickly discovered that I had left my spoon and headlamp at the trailhead and decided I would hike out before breakfast in the morning to get them. I woke up early and started walking to my car feeling inconvenienced. Not ten minutes down the trail some movement in the river caught my attention. I swung my head to look at the river bank and froze in my tracks as two otters were just leaving their den. I watched silently as the pair had a playful moment and then swam upstream to hunt for breakfast. All of a sudden I was thankful for my forgetfulness and continued down the trail with a spring in my step.
Photos courtesy of David Cohen.