A 300-plus mile trail system, constructed at considerable public expense, once offered hikers, backpackers and equestrians opportunities to experience the Big Sur backcountry with relative ease. Nowadays, the lapse of Forest Service funding has rendered the vast majority of these trails barely passable. Ever-more frequent wildfires produce deadfall, vegetative re-growth and erosion that continuously add to the maintenance backlog. Loops and through-hikes in the Big Sur backcountry often involve extensive stretches of brushy, difficult and even outright dangerous trails.
In conjunction with the US Forest Service, the VWA has instituted the Partners in Preservation – Archaeological Site Steward program. The purpose of the program is to train and deploy volunteers to monitor existing sites in the Los Padres National Forest and report signs of degradation from human, animal and weather abuse so that steps can be taken to preserve them.
Volumes of peer‐reviewed research have emphasized the importance of connecting young people with nature, and the influence this contact has in the development of community‐orientated, conservation‐minded adults. The VWA’s Youth in Wilderness program builds a foundation for healthy lifestyles, community leadership, problem‐solving skills and conservation ethics by providing outdoor education to local students on the public lands of the Ventana and Silver Peak Wilderness areas.
Marijuana cultivation on California’s public lands by illicit commercial growers continues unabated. These commercial grow sites and the environmental degradation they cause is an ongoing problem in the Ventana region. When law enforcement personnel eradicate these sites, their first responsibility is to remove the contraband marijuana plants. Agency personnel do not always remove the trash generated by months of occupancy by the growers including foodstuffs, camping gear, irrigation tubing, garden tools, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and rat poison.
The VWA partners with the US Forest Service to organize, train and outfit Volunteer Wilderness Rangers. These dedicated volunteers hike the trails, clean up trash and impart Leave No Trace principles to backcountry visitors. Patrols are focused on the most heavily-used trails and camps (such as the camps along the Pine Ridge Trail), especially over holiday weekends.
The VWA effort to restore the wilderness character of the Willow Creek drainage is an excellent example of the organization’s ability to embrace and successfully complete large-scale stewardship projects. The project began in 1999 with the “discovery” of approximately three tons of trash by VWA volunteers who were surveying the area for possible wilderness designation. That wilderness designation became a reality with passage of the 2002 Big Sur Wilderness and Conservation Act which included the 8,400 acre Willow Creek addition to the Silver Peak Wilderness Area.