Labor of love in the wilderness

Hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians who frequent the forests and mountain trails outside of Albuquerque and Santa Fe perform a vital role as guardians of these recreational areas.

Each year, groups from local clubs put in thousands of volunteer hours to keep the trails clear of vegetation, repair weather- and fire-caused damage or create new routes to enhance the trail experience. They partner with agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Continental Divide Trail Alliance (CDTA), Albuquerque Open Space Division, New Mexico State Parks and National Monuments in the state.

“Volunteers accomplish an astounding amount of work every year, especially on trails in and out of the wilderness,” said Jennifer Sublett, the U.S. Forest Service volunteer coordinator for the Española & Pecos/Las Vegas and Coyote Ranger Districts.

Sublett decides which maintenance projects to pursue in her area and coordinates with the various groups to schedule the work and tracks their hours. In the Santa Fe National Forest alone, volunteers put in 24,000 hours of service in the fiscal year between Oct. 1, 2015, and Sept. 30, 2016.

Volunteer labor has become critical to keeping trails open as federal budgets have been cut, said Kerry Wood, wilderness and trails program manager for the Cibola National Forest Sandia Ranger District. He is one of only two Forest Service employees with responsibility for about 400 miles of trails that crisscross the Sandia Mountains.

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