I am a Forest Service retiree and Sawtooth Society Board member, spending almost half my career on the Sawtooth National Forest. I fell in love with this place from the first glance over Galena Summit and have made my permanent home here. It is my place.
Congress established the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in 1972. The National Park Service managed most national recreation areas in those days. Still, Idaho’s congressional delegation and the governor wanted the Sawtooths managed by the Forest Service, an agency they knew and trusted to preserve and protect this amazing place for the people of Idaho and the nation. Congress chartered a new mission for the SNRA, and the Forest Service was honored to take on the stewardship of this remarkable place.
For more than 20 years, funding for the SNRA was a priority for the Forest Service and the Idaho delegation. Forest Service Chief John McGuire promised, “to take special care in managing the SNRA.” In the early years, the SNRA headquarters at North Fork and the Stanley Ranger Station in Stanley had an abundance of permanent and seasonal staff. Plenty of personnel cleared the roads and trails, managed the campgrounds and visitor centers, educated visitors, and carried out resource protection work.
Funding dropped dramatically in the 1980s. Late in the decade, when I arrived on the SNRA, staffing and funding had fallen by more than a third. In the last two decades, overall staffing and funding have been reduced by half to 51% of previous totals. This was happening as people from all over the nation were discovering the SNRA. Recreation use increased as fast as funding dropped. Finally, it became clear; the Forest Service knew it could no longer take care of the SNRA without establishing partnerships and working collaboratively with people who love it.
In the mid-90s, private concessionaires began to operate SNRA campgrounds; in the early 2000s, trail work was transferred from all USFS crews to volunteers recruited by the Sawtooth Society and other groups led by a few USFS staff. The Sawtooth Historical and Interpretive Association have managed information and education services at SNRA visitor centers since 2011.
To maintain open trails, the Sawtooth Society must-have seasonal crews out from May through September to ensure recreation trails and roads are cleared and kept open for the public. Working closely with Forest Service staff, the Society employs a trail crew and recruits and supervises volunteer groups to do trail work. Last year Society crews performed 1,399 hours of trail maintenance work, clearing 162 miles of trails and roads and removing 2,329 trees that blocked them.
Terry Clark, Board Member