STANLEY, Idaho – Nearly 250 people turned out to volunteer for a physically-distant, socially-organized cleanup of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area during a two-week period that ended Oct. 4.

In celebration of National Public Lands Day, conservation and historical nonprofits including the Sawtooth Society, the Idaho Conservation League (ICL), The National Forest Foundation (NFF), and the Sawtooth Interpretative & Historical Association (SIHA) partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to organize this massive cleanup effort.

From Sept. 19to Oct. 4, nature-lovers, recreationists, locals, and visitors joined as stewards of the Sawtooths to do their part to remedy the damage of the busy summer season. These volunteers logged a total of 262 hours of work, rehabilitated 126 campgrounds, disassembled 184 overbuilt fire rings, and disposed of 101 instances of human waste.

The isolating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic brought droves of sightseers to the SNRA looking to shake their cabin fever and release some pent-up energy. The unprecedented numbers certainly left a mark on the landscape.

The Sawtooth Society and its partners are proud to have helped facilitate so many people getting outdoors and thinking about conservation. We would like to extend our greatest thanks to all involved and to the selfless volunteers who made this cleanup a reality and a success.

Through wind, smoke, and snow volunteer groups set out with their trash bags and rubber gloves, scouring the front and backcountry for trash and whatever other discarded waste they might find. In groups ranging from one to eleven people in size, volunteers following Covid-19 protocols were tasked with cleaning out and often disassembling overused fire rings, naturalizing unregulated camping areas, discouraging travel off trail, removing noxious weeds, and the very unglamorous task of disposing of human waste.

If upon returning to your family campsite in the Sawtooths next year you find that your towering marvel of a campfire ring has been reduced to only seven rocks, you have these heroes to thank for reducing the risk of wildfires. Over-built fire rings can often retain embers buried deep in the ash pile that can relight a fire and potentially spread it long after campers have left.

Reports differed from site to site. Some volunteers were pleasantly surprised to find little to no trash in popular areas such as the Saddleback Lakes or Goat Lake. Other sites left volunteers less at peace with humanity and instead imploring for the necessity of pit toilets at some of the more unimproved campsites along Highway 75.

Not all of the tough cleanup work was expected to be carried out by these saintly volunteers alone. Funding was provided by ICL, NFF and the Sawtooth Society for an Idaho Conservation Corp youth crew to rehab heavily used campsites and forest roads between the headwaters of the Salmon River and Alturas Lake. (More about what they accomplished).

This cleanup initiative marks the first of what will hopefully become an end of season tradition in the SNRA

If you would like to learn more about volunteering for the Sawtooth Society please visit our website, sawtoothscoiety.org, where you can sign up for trail work projects scheduled for the upcoming summer season.

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