Youth celebrate Wilderness' 50th with service at Bandelier

Youth with Mario Nuño-Whelan in Bandelier

On Oct. 4th, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (RMYC) helped us celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act by getting their hands dirty to give back to New Mexico's wilderness.

About 45 staff and volunteers from RMYC and The Wilderness Society (TWS) partnered with Bandelier National Monument to give back to its Wilderness area. RMYC inspires young adults to make a difference in themselves and their communities through team-building service opportunities.

Participants were tasked with improving the Upper Crossing Trail of Frijoles Canyon. The trail had suffered major damage as a result of heavy flooding after the Las Conchas Fire of 2012. The service project made the trail more accessible for hikers seeking to enjoy Bandelier Wilderness.

After hiking 1.5 miles to Frijoles Canyon, teams worked for 2.5 hours on projects like vegetation removal and building steps along a steep portions of trail switchbacks.

"I really enjoy being able to see, physically, the changes that we’re a part of," said Emmy, a member of the Bandelier Conservation Crew from Los Alamos. "Doing the trail work you see that, at first – it’s a wreck. There’s a lot of work to be done and it’s kind of intimidating at first but as we started doing it, bit by bit, there’s just been really big changes along the way."

"After needing four people to move giant boulders into place, spending time shaping the stones to get them just right against each other, then creating ‘crush’ to help fill in the sides, you realize how much work goes into every trail on our forests," said Mario Nuño-Whelan, TWS' Public Lands Community Organizer in New Mexico. "It was a nice reminder not to take for granted the steps, or the retaining walls, or the water bars, or the cleared paths of the trails that take us through the forests. They take work."

Michael Casaus, The Wilderness Society's Regional Conservation Director in New Mexico, shared with the group the role New Mexico has had in the rich history of Wilderness – including the impact of iconic conservationist Aldo Leopold and his work in the Gila Wilderness, America's first Wilderness Area.

Bandelier Wilderness is a diverse, scenic landscape that includes ancestral Pueblo archeological sites and the country's largest Civilian Conservation Corps National Landmark District.

Casaus said he was particularly inspired to see many young Latinos and Native Americans working side by side with conservationists. Projects like this also help these youth connect more directly with their ancestral lands and way of life.

This project is just one of many projects celebrating 50 years of American Wilderness. Find out about others here.

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