Meet the volunteers maintaining access to public land

Published online: Mar 24, 2020 Articles, East Idaho Outdoors Kris Millgate
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Drive 20 minutes out of town and you’ll hit a trailhead. Go east, west, north or south. Doesn’t matter. Choose any direction and you’ll find a dirt path to play on. Those paths lead into acres upon acres of public land --land owned by every American.    

Sixty-two percent of Idaho is public land managed by the federal government for the people. That’s more than half of the state open for all to use…as long as there’s a way in. Trouble is, trails leading into that promised public land are falling apart. Federal budgets are shrinking while the maintenance backlog is ballooning. There’s no solution in the near future so many Idahoans are stepping up on their own dime and their own time.

They’re runners, bikers, hunters and fishers. They’re volunteers, by the dozens, doing hard labor for love of land. Meet three of the many. 

Luke Nelson                          

Scout Mountain Ultra Trails Race Director

Scout Mountain Ultras aren’t your typical turkey trot. It's a really difficult mountain running with a lot of elevation. Our U.S. Forest Service permit allows for 400 runners and we sell out every year. Our biggest challenge is making sure the trails are ready for the runners.

We run every section of the course three times beforehand to make sure the trail is clear. That’s 300 miles of trail work. It’s not required of us to remove trash or do trail work before the race, but the resources of the forest around us just aren’t there to be able to take care of that so we fill in the gap. 

A typical trail workday means running 30 miles of trail with a saw and snips in my pack and clearing off everything that I can by hand. If we find bigger trees down then we’ll mark them and go back with chainsaws later. And we do end up cleaning up a lot of other people’s messes particularly at trailheads. 

We find a lot of plastic bottles, cans, pallets, TV screens, lots and lots of shotgun shells and cardboard boxes. It can sometimes feel pretty futile trying to keep it clean year after year after year, but it’s not going to stop us from doing it. We’re all out there and we’re all making an impact. If we’re not trying to minimize that, we’re going to love places to death.


Becca Aceto

Idaho Wildlife Federation Outreach Coordinator

As hunters, we get labeled as the consumptive users of wildlife and public land, but that’s a really hard term to actually pinpoint because we’re all a little bit consumptive in what we’re doing out here. Just stepping out here, we’re a presence and that impacts the place we’re in. 

A lot of us use these trails without thinking about the hours that go into maintaining them. If I had to ask who I think should be maintaining them, I think all of us who are using them should be putting in some time to give back. 

You can go out there, get what you need, leave and that’s it. Or you can go out there and realize what you do has impacts not only on the natural world, but on other people who are using public lands. It gives you this perspective that’s bigger than yourself. We call it getting your sweat equity. Getting a little bit of that in is always really great.


Beau Beasley

Wilderness Ridge Trail Llamas Owner and Outfitter

One of the roles we’ve assumed is all the trails we use, we make sure they’re clear in the spring. That allows us to train our young llamas and helps us give back in a way that’s fulfilling and really makes us feel like we’re part of it. We’re actually giving back because we make our living out here. We give as much as we possibly can. 

Typically for each permit area we have, we want to do around 30 hours of trail work per year. It’s hard work, but nothing comes in life without a little bit of work and sacrifice and it’s always rewarding. 

Trail work is not a job. It’s a public service. People need to understand there are public land users out here who love the land and they’re doing much of the work now. We use the trails. We take care of the trails. They give to us. We give back to them.

Click here to read more of our April issue.



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