A fast-growing nonprofit group focused on wilderness areas in the Cascades near Bend wants to add more friends to its ranks.
Volunteers with the Friends of the Central Cascades Wilderness help the Deschutes and Willamette national forests with wilderness-restoration projects, visitor education and cleanups. The group started small in 2013 and became a nonprofit last year.
“We’ve gone from three people to begin with, and now we are at 60,” Molly Johnson, the group’s president, said Tuesday. “We have done so much already, but there is more to do.”
Having lived in Bend since 2001, Johnson, a hiking instructor at Central Oregon Community College, said she started the group with a couple of friends. Friends of the Central Cascades Wilderness comes in response to the increasing number of visitors to wilderness areas in Central Oregon. Volunteers do stewardship work in the Three Sisters, Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, Diamond Peak and Mount Thielsen wilderness areas.
Chores range from installing trail signs to removing campfire rings to picking up litter, mainly “micro-trash,” as Johnson and U.S. Forest Service wilderness rangers call candy wrappers, bottle caps and other tiny pieces of garbage left in the woods. Johnson said the group could have 300 members and still stay busy.
The Friends helped wilderness rangers reconfigure and eliminate some backcountry campsites late this summer in the Green Lakes basin in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area. The next event on their calendar, and the group’s biggest of the year, is the “Love It and Leave It Clean Day!” trail cleanup set for Oct. 17. The group plans to do the cleanup, now in its second year, annually in fall.
Starting in Bend and Sisters, event volunteers go to wilderness areas and head out on hikes. Along the way, they’ll pick up any trash they find, Johnson said, clearing the trails of debris before snow falls.
Volunteers in Bend are set to go up the Cascade Lakes Highway, and those in Sisters are heading up McKenzie Pass Highway and U.S. Highway 20.
The Friends will divide the corps into teams cleaning up different trails, with varying lengths and difficulty of hikes.
“If someone is interested, they don’t necessarily need to be an avid hiker,” Johnson said.
As visitor numbers increase at wilderness areas around Central Oregon, it is crucial to have volunteers like the Friends to keep things nice, said Amy Racki, recreation team leader for the Sisters Ranger District of the Deschutes National Forest.
“They are really our boots on the ground,” she said.
Along with doing dirty work like burying human waste, Racki said the volunteers help the national forest by greeting wilderness visitors and answering questions.
The Friends have helped identify problems in wilderness areas around the region, being extra “eyes and ears” for wilderness rangers, said Jason Fisher, wilderness specialist for the Deschutes National Forest in Bend. He said volunteers with the group have gone through Forest Service training and are working closely with the agency.
By being out in wilderness and taking care of it, the Friends may inspire other visitors to do the same.
“It is kind of neat when these volunteers are packing out trash and … people ask them what they are doing,” Fisher said.
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