Extra Time on Your Hands? Get “Together” and Start (or Find) a Forest Friends’ Group!

While we’re discussing the details of plan revisions or projects of the contentious persuasion.. it’s sometimes easy to forget that most things forests do are not all that controversial. The things that are lifting our spirits right now, for example, are recreating in the Forests. The current Covid situation has brought heightened attention and appreciation to our outdoor opportunities. And while some Parks are closed, National Forests, for the activities that most of us engage in, are not.

This could be the time to assess whether your Forest has a friends’ group, and whether you have time and skill to step up and develop one. I’ve lifted the below paragraphs from an essay I wrote for the book “193 Million Acres” edited by Steve Wilent.

Everyone needs good friends, and when it comes to recreation, friends are perhaps the Forest Service’s greatest need. The agency already has lots of friends. At the national scale, the National Forest Foundation was chartered by Congress in 1993 to “bring people together to restore and enhance our National Forests and Grasslands.”

Numerous local groups focus on their specific national forest or ranger district. In Colorado, the Friends of Dillon Ranger District (fdrd.org) is one example: “Friends of the Dillon Ranger District (FDRD) leverages the power of volunteers to make sure that your national forest lands,that are enjoyed by millions of people each year, are not negatively impacted by their popularity. By volunteering with FDRD, or supporting us by becoming a member or making a financial contribution, you benefit your national forest that makes Summit County a world-class destination.”

In California, the mission of the Stewards of the Sierra National Forest (sotsnf.org) is “to unite the many people who enjoy the diverse recreation activities available in the Sierra National Forest, promoting responsible recreation and use of forest resources, through conservation and education, and ensuring public access to the forest in the present and for future generations.” In Illinois, the Friends of the Shawnee National Forest (shawneefriends.org) is a “nonprofit organization that supports the Shawnee National Forest by promoting land stewardship, environmental education, and responsible outdoor recreation.”

Friends groups can accept donations for supporting a forest or district—donations the agency cannot accept. I am going hiking tomorrow on a national forest. After I use about $30 worth of gas to get to a trailhead, I think it’s fair to donate $10 to the district Friends group. I’d like to do so via a collection box at the trailhead or perhaps online. But with no Friends, the $10 sits in my pocket despite my best intentions.

While considering whether to incorporate The Smokey Wire as a 501c3, I discovered that it’s really not all that difficult to do (though we ultimately decided again not to). I’m sure the folks noted above and others can be called on for advice. And retirees, this could be a special way for you to give back. Many (most) of you are great at organizing and getting things done, and this enforced time of online work might be an opportunity.

In the essay, I suggested that the Outdoor Recreation Industry fund a kind of “Friends’ group” learning network, and a half-time volunteer coordinator on each Forest. But the next six months to a year might end up being a hard time for them. And the Public Lands Alliance has a resource library and partnership best practices, so that could help. We’ve often developed friendships, and just plain better relationships, working with people in collaborative groups, even on something as controversial as a plan revision or a roadless rule. Reaching agreements on where to spend money, or how to raise it, seems like a much more fertile area for cooperation and mutual appreciation. Anyone with experiences of successes or failures, please write in and tell us your story.

8 thoughts on “Extra Time on Your Hands? Get “Together” and Start (or Find) a Forest Friends’ Group!”

  1. “National Forests, for the activities that most of us engage in, are not”
    Unfortunately R6 forests have closed all recreation sites, parking lots, trails, even bushwhacking is specifically not allowed on some of these forests. The State of Washington has closed all DNR lands and has banned all fishing.


    • Thanks, Javier! The variety of approaches is interesting. Here’s my local Forest “Forest Service lands on the PSICC are open for day use activities, such as forest trails accessed at federally managed trail heads, to provide opportunity for the public to participate in necessary activities defined by the Colorado Governor’s Executive Order to Stay at Home dated March 25, 2020. ” Colorado had deemed marijuana shops as essential services, so maybe we have a different worldview.

      It is fascinating that given the same virus (but States have different approaches) how that affects or doesn’t the approaches on Federal lands. As well as seasonal issues.. our concern might be too much back-country skiing while other states might be worried about wildfires already.

    • Bob, I’ve heard someone can do a 2 second google search rather than carelessly spreading false rumors.

      Source: https://www.fs.usda.gov/klamath

      A Notice To All USDA Forest Service Visitors: March 26, 2020 – All Klamath National Forest facilities are currently open virtually only. Please call the Visitor Information staff for assistance at (530) 598-3781.

      Currently all developed recreation sites (campgrounds, day-use sites, picnic areas) are closed to protect public health and safety. Trailheads are expected to remain open. This status will remain in effect at least until April 30, 2020. See the Regional Forester’s Order for additional information


        • Reading their websites you kind of a mixed picture, but for most of region 6th and the Klamath, it seems all developed sites, campgrounds, boat ramps, ohv, hot springs, day use areas, fire lockouts, and trailheads will be closed till September 30.

          • Hi Bob,

            Can you please share with us any actual documentation from the U.S. Forest Service that “all developed sites, campgrounds, boat ramps, ohv, hot springs, day use areas, fire lockouts, and trailheads will be closed till September 30?”

            Here’s a link to the USFS Region Six page about Coronavirus, which also includes links to specific information and alerts from Oregon & Washington National Forest: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r6/home/?cid=FSEPRD716206

            • Matt, here is one example from the Umpqua’s website:

              U.S. Forest Service – Umpqua National Forest
              on Monday
              To support state and local measures directing people to stay home to save lives, we will be temporarily closing all developed recreation areas. These include campgrounds, day-use areas, boat ramps, trail heads, fire lookouts, and OHV areas. The closure will take effect immediately and will continue through September 30 or until such measures are lifted.


Leave a Comment