A Three Sisters Wilderness Trails Presence: Mounted Ranger and Packer Jim Leep

Mounted wilderness ranger and packer Jim Leep on mule.

Mounted wilderness ranger and packer Jim Leep on patrol.

By Les Joslin

With the Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station at the primary eastern entrance to the Three Sisters Wilderness up and running, I spent the summer of 1993 training volunteer wilderness information specialists to staff that station, staffing it myself on days a qualified volunteer was not available, and patrolling the trails when the station was staffed.

Late that summer I met the other volunteer wilderness ranger on patrol a mile or two north of the Green Lakes—some six trail miles north of the Green Lakes Trailhead—while I was surveying campsites in that relatively remote stretch of the wilderness. I knew this volunteer mounted ranger and packer had begun service that summer, but this was the first time our trails had crossed.

We introduced ourselves. Jim Leep was a retired Portland, Oregon, police officer who, by all reports, was doing a superb job that summer doing what mounted rangers and packers do—serving wilderness visitors and transporting trail crew camps, equipment, and such materials as signs, sign posts, and water bars. And he was doing it for free, using his own saddle stock and pack string.

We compared notes. In response to his questions, I explained how and why I was serving as I did on a contract—almost as a forest patrol officer but without enforcement authority. Then, recognizing competence and professionalism when I saw it, I noted he labored under so such federal government employment restrictions as I did. “You should be a seasonal employee of the Forest Service,” I told him.

For the next dozen years he was, epitomizing the “forest ranger” on wilderness trails as he and his saddle and pack stock patrolled the Deschutes National Forest third of the Three Sisters Wilderness, always available and able to handle any assignment or challenge that came his way. Jim and I worked closely together, sometimes against unexpected and unnecessary odds, to do a full range of real jobs well. Jim had great people skills, and related especially well to the many equestrian wilderness visitors.

Years later, after our Three Sisters Wilderness years were behind us, Jim and I sectioned the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail through Oregon—from the California line to the Washington State line–together. And, when my book Three Sisters Wilderness: A History was published by The History Press in 2021, Jim was the wilderness ranger on the cover and in half a dozen of the photographs which illustrate the book.

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