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Traveling, living, loving, exploring and trying to make some semblance of sense out of this crazy world.  


Monday, December 31, 2012

"Your" National Forest: Volunteers Expendable

My wife and I are volunteer site stewards for the National Forest. We came here based on promises and descriptions from the Forest HQ and volunteer coordination staff, driving 800 miles from Colorado Springs to take a volunteer campground host position. 

We've been here since October 12 of 2012, and I've lost track of the broken promises, distortions, mis-information and outright lies we've been told, the interagency cluelessness and lack of cooperation, the incompetence, neglect, and apathy that are rampant in this patch of Public Lands. 

We've been shot at and threatened and had our subsequent 911 calls ignored or downplayed, been harassed and treated with contempt by cops who didn't know we were supposed to be there (both NF and local sheriff's patrols) even after a month of being "boots on the ground". We've watched Mexican-American families who have been here for generations- American citizens who have founded businesses, paid taxes, and lost children to war- harassed and profiled by the police, who managed, quite successfully, thankyouverymuch, to ignore rich WASPs doing double the speed limit with cocktail in hand, or the predominantly-white Boy Scouts who showed little or no embrace of the motto "Be Prepared" as they whined about not having gates opened for them, left bonfires unattended, scattered plastic and foil litter throughout the campground, cut down live trees, ignored no fire and no glass signs, and generally turned the facilities into a riot from Friday night to Sunday afternoon.

We have been moved from pillar to post, asked to inform the public then advised not to approach, asked to be "eyes and ears for law enforcement" and then directed not to call 911 unless it's a real emergency" (because gunfire and bonfires are not, nor is a group of drunks leaving with three toddlers in the car). 

After a month of swimming upstream and starting to get a picture of determined blindness to the true problems by the Powers That Be, we were told that it was not felt to be safe for us to be in this spot (although the concern seemed to be more for the safety of the status quo than the volunteers) and subsequently relocated to a steward site fourteen miles from town. Apparently, we are far safer where there is no police presence from 3 pm to 10 am through the week and next to none at all on the weekends, two miles from a biker bar on a road known for drunk drivers with nothing but wilderness at our backs. 

We were promised access to showers and laundry just two miles down the road from this newest spot, but arrived to find out that the facilities and services promised had, in fact, been closed since late August, something one would (perhaps unreasonably) expect the volunteer coordinators to know, when the orders for closure originated from an office in the same building where they work, an office in fact located no more than ten feet down the hall from their own.

We were promised access to electricity, but there is no 110 hook-up onsite, just a 30 amp plug for a trailer. Repeated requests have produced none of the materials I need to use my years of electrical experience to install a plug for our use or to fix the lights in the ramadas in our site, so we have not only no power, but no light. This springs from the fact that the NF keeps no maintenance stock for routine replacement and repair of lights, switches, receptacles, covers, door handles, hinges, etc. You have to get the part number and order them from a catalogue.

Of course, with a spending freeze in place, you might have to wait a while for those parts... say, 'til Spring?

We have a 150 yd walk to the pit toilet when we need to use the bathroom, because despite the fact that we are not using the sewer system, and thus saving the FS from having to pump it, they cannot spring for a port-a-john. The bathroom cleaning contractor doesn't fulfill his contract by giving the facilities more than a look and a promise, meaning our usual option is standing in urine and feces while hovering above a splattered toilet seat. 

The Forestry Service Law Enforcement has yet to show up to talk to us about the loss of over $500 worth of gear, despite repeated calls, and the coordinator's attitude was "We just don't know how this could have happened?" Of course, the thought of sharing these thoughts with us was never foremost in their minds, as it took a week for the VC to even show up and share this info.

It took that week and most of the next to get a lock put on the area we had been assured was safe to secure our personal belongings... the one from which they had been taken, apparently in broad daylight, while we were away on a climbing trip. The guys who put the lock hasp and combo lock on said they knew long ago that this NF "has a key problem, and knows it... Who knows how many thousands of keys are out there, since it takes one key to open most of the Yale locks in the entire Forest?"

(In all honesty, this is something I have seen across the country, an epidemic of unsecured gates and access points, with hundreds of keys, antiquated locks, and a vast gap between law enforcement capabilities and requirements.)

But the LEO and Volunteer Coordinator still have "no idea how this could have happened"? 

Follow-up to this; after a week without water supply or any of those "routine patrols" we were promised so long ago in Colorado, we drove 20 miles to the admin facility that is open to take showers and use the kitchen to cook a holiday meal.

No dice.

We had been locked out. 

Not out of the gate, which still opened to our combo, nor out of the laundry room, which is separated from the interior of the kitchen by a single, screwed-on sheet of 3/4" plywood covering a door frame. 

(So anyone with a brick, claw hammer or a good strong kick could have accessed the interior easily enough.)

It was a final straw on an already overloaded camel's back, and I was sorely tempted, but there was a sheriff's deputy tending the horses in the corral, and I didn't feel like spending the holidays in the pokey. 

There would be no hot meals, no hot showers or access to the Volunteer Lounge for the Gypsies for Christmas.

Happy Holidays..........

While I have spent most of my life doing volunteer clean-ups and trailwork and education in the National Forests across this country, I cannot strongly enough caution anyone against volunteering for any National Forest position without getting all promises and conditions in writing, because in the 21st Century, volunteering on your Public Lands is far more than a job.... it's the day-to-day reality of fighting inexcusable incompetence and rampant apathy.

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