A Three Sisters Wilderness Trailhead Presence: A Distinguished Volunteer

By Les Joslin

On July 30, 1997, I was orienting new volunteer James W. “Jim” Plummer to his Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station duties. “I understand you were in the Navy,” he said, and informed me he had been a World War II naval aviator. “I bet I know someone you know,” this tall, slim, patrician gentleman grinned when I mentioned what I did in the Navy.

“Who might that be?” I asked.

“Bobby Inman,” he replied. “He and I met frequently when I was director.”

“Well, yes, I knew the admiral….” Admiral Bobby Ray Inman was the first naval intelligence officer to earn four stars. I met him and briefed him on a few occasions when he was Director of Naval Intelligence and Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and I was a lieutenant commander serving as an analyst in Washington, D.C. I was never a member of his inner circle that continued to run Naval Intelligence after he went on to be Director of the National Security Agency and Deputy Director of Central Intelligence. President Bill Clinton in December 1993 asked Admiral Inman to be Secretary of Defense, but his January 1994 public comment about reaching a “comfort level” with Clinton as commander-in-chief led to his withdrawal.

“Wait! You’re that James W. Plummer?”

He smiled and nodded. I was taken aback. My new volunteer was the distinguished Lockheed Corporation engineer who had led its reconnaissance satellite program, then served as Undersecretary of the Air Force and Director of the then super-secret National Reconnaissance Office from 1973 to 1976. His accomplishments were commended and his contributions were honored by the nation’s intelligence community and its engineering societies. Only then did I recall having met with him briefly in his Pentagon office on some long forgotten item of business. He, of course, wouldn’t recall me.

He had retired in Bend. And here he was, serving as a volunteer wilderness information specialist and—at his insistence—cleaning trailhead restrooms. He certainly is the most distinguished person I have known, and who, as far as I know, ever served as a Forest Service volunteer. Jim, as he insisted I call him, volunteered at the Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station in 1997 and 1998 because he wanted to, and did an outstanding job.

“Les, thanks for giving Dad this chance,” his son once said to me. “All the time he was in engineering and space, he really wanted to be a ranger.”

Jim Plummer died in Medford, Oregon, on January 16, 2013, at age ninety-two.

A Three Sisters Wilderness Trailhead Presence: As Summers Went By

With apologies to Les and to readers, Les had sent me a series and I got them out of order.  He recently sent me the correct order, so here goes…-Sharon

By Les Joslin

I often reflect on the variety of people and predicaments experienced during my Green Lakes Trailhead summer duties. A few anecdotes make one believe just about anything could happen there. That, of course, meant volunteer information specialists and I had to be ready for just about anything.

A Couple Wilderness Old-Timers

On July 7, 1995, Forbes W. “Buck” Rogers of Spokane, Washington, and John Barton of Bend, Oregon, visited the Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station. Mr. Barton had been the Sparks Lake recreation guard in the summer of 1964 and Mr. Barton the first Bend Ranger District wilderness guard in the summer of 1965. I enjoyed their stories of those days, particularly when Buck told me part of his job in 1964 was to bury the garbage visitors left behind in the Green Lakes basin—before the Wilderness Act of 1964 had been signed that September, and John told me part of his job in 1965 was to dig it up and pack it out. In those days, they told me, the parking area and trailhead were across Fall Creek from their current location, and both had stayed in the old Fall Creek Guard Station cabin just a few hundred yards north of the current trailhead. We ambled up that way, poked around in the pumice, and actually found a small piece of green-painted wood from the structure.

A Shooting Incident

On July 29, 1995, I heard gunshots to the west of the Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station. Within a couple of minutes, visitors drove in and reported a man indiscriminately shooting at the Devil’s Garden not far west of my location.  I reported the incident to Central Oregon Dispatch, and within fifteen minutes a Forest Service law enforcement officer arrived, arrested the person at gunpoint, and took him to the Deschutes County Jail.

A Fire on Devils Hill

My daughter Wendy, who served 17 days as a volunteer wilderness information specialist in 1996, was staffing the Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station on July 26 when a violent lightning storm ignited a fire on Devils Hill just over a mile to the northwest. In response to her report of the smoke to Central Oregon Dispatch, she watched eight smokejumpers jump the fire about 30 minutes later. I often wonder if this experience influenced her toward studying forestry at Oregon State University.

A Los Angeles Times Writer

On August 23, 1996, John McKinney, Los Angeles Times hiking columnist, visited the Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station. He was researching his book Great Walks of North America: The Pacific Northwest, published by Henry Holt and Company in 1997, for which I provided him information and photographs and in which he profiles my wilderness service and my wilderness education project. “When hikers meet a helpful wilderness ranger, it adds to their experience and makes their trek all the more special,” he quoted me.

A Controversial Fee Program

In 1997 it fell to me to help implement the Pacific Northwest Region’s controversial Trail Park Pass program mandated by the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act of 1996. By that act Congress permitted—and, for all practical purposes, required—federal land management agencies to charge fees to cover recreation facility operation expenses previously covered by appropriated funds. In the Pacific Northwest Region of the National Forest System, wilderness visitors in “participating national forests” paid a parking fee at wilderness trailheads.

Public protests resulted and cost my project some good trailhead volunteers. I couldn’t blame them for not wanting to be targets of the more vitriolic protesters. Others stuck, helped explain that Congress had required the Forest Service to charge user fees in lieu of reduced appropriated funds to maintain recreation facilities including wilderness trails, and we sold $6,337 worth of the passes at the station that summer. Those receipts increased to $7,975 in 1998 but decreased to less than a third of that sum in 1999 as more visitors purchased annual passes prior to visiting and day passes became available at self-service pay stations. Although the public increasingly accepted the fees, protests continued as the system evolved pursuant to subsequent acts and programs.


A Three Sisters Wilderness Academic Presence: Oregon State University

An Oregon State University Forestry 352: Wilderness Management student patrols the Wickiup Plain in the Three Sisters Wilderness.
An Oregon State University Forestry 352: Wilderness Management student patrols the Wickiup Plain in the Three Sisters Wilderness.

By Les Joslin

On May 10, 2000, about the time I began my eleventh Three Sisters Wilderness season—my first in that temporary seasonal GS-5 forestry technician position to serve as a wilderness ranger-wilderness educator—I accepted a quarter-time Oregon State University position in the Department of Distance & Continuing Education as OSU Statewide Central Oregon Area Advisor in Bend for the period July 1, 2000, to June 30, 2001. Through creative scheduling I was able to discharge those OSU advisor duties and my Forest Service duties in the Three Sisters Wilderness as well as teach the summer iteration of my Central Oregon field geography course. Yep, I was one busy guy! And about to get busier!

I’d never thought seriously about being a university instructor. I lacked that Ph.D. that seemed the necessary prerequisite. Then, in the autumn of 2000, Assistant Professor Bob Ehrhart, assigned to Bend to coordinate and teach in the distance education version of OSU’s bachelor of science degree program in natural resources, asked me if I’d be interested in developing and teaching “an upper division course on amenity uses of natural resources” he’d more specifically define later. A hardworking guy, Bob’s idea of time off that summer had been auditing my Geography 198: Field Geography of Central Oregon course. That’s the only time I recall a Ph.D. enrolled in that freshman-level course.

Apparently he’d liked what he saw. By summer 2001, when Bob got down to brass tacks about the “amenity uses of natural resources” course I would teach for OSU, the topic had morphed into a distance education version of the College of Forestry’s three-credit wilderness management course. I had fall quarter of 2001 to develop the course and winter quarter of 2002 to produce it for online presentation that spring quarter. Production included writing and recording 28 video modules at the Corvallis campus studio as well as developing course materials.

The course, Forestry 352: Wilderness Management, addressed the evolution and application of wilderness as a land use concept from historical, philosophical, political, preservation, planning, and management perspectives. I designed it to provide the potential wilderness manager—or potential natural resource manager who would work with wilderness managers—a comprehensive introduction to the theories and techniques of managing wilderness lands set aside by Congress under the Wilderness Act of 1964 as units of the National Wilderness Preservation System that act established. Wilderness management, I emphasized, is as much social science as natural science. It focuses on minimizing visitor impacts to the wilderness resource and experience through a combination of educational and engineering means and, only when absolutely necessary, through enforcement.

I presented the ten-week course through those 28 video modules—initially on VHS cassettes, later on DVD, and finally via online video streaming—supported by reading assignments in three textbooks. One of these was Roderick Nash’s Wilderness and the American Mind about America’s changing attitude toward wilderness that led to its preservation. A second was John C. Hendee’s and Chad P. Dawson’s Wilderness Management, the definitive textbook and reference. The third was my The Wilderness Concept and the Three Sisters Wilderness which interpreted that National Wilderness Preservation System unit as sort of a “lab rat” for the course.

My approach to teaching this course made it a labor-intensive and time-consuming enterprise. Students wrote six papers—three journal article reviews, two graded review exercises, and a management problem analysis—before taking a comprehensive final exam. This was an upper division university course, and in my mind that meant writing clear, complete, concise responses to questions which required analytical thought and appropriate exposition. Given the state of writing instruction in some high schools and colleges along with some professors’ preference for time-saving objective measurements, some students were not ready for this challenge and taken aback by this approach. “Les, you’re so ‘old school!’” one faculty colleague chided me. “Yes, and proud of it!” I replied.

As an adjunct instructor, not a full-time faculty member, I was able to focus on teaching free of other academic duties such as serving on committees and was not subject to the publish-or-perish syndrome. I did, however, publish three relevant articles in the International Journal of Wilderness.

During the ten years in which I taught the course a dozen times—twice in person in Bend and ten times online—I had some outstanding students, many good ones, and some who should not have been in college. Among the more memorable who performed brilliantly were a medical doctor—an internal medicine specialist in Alameda, California, who told me she was interested in wilderness management as a prospective career—and a national park ranger at Glacier National Park from whose different perspectives I learned.

Several students who completed Forestry 352 signed up for and completed an additional three-credit upper division wilderness field service course during which they worked alongside mounted ranger and packer Jim Leep and me within the Three Sisters Wilderness as well as independently at the Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station to experience a wider spectrum of wilderness management tasks.

I am very pleased to have had this positive university teaching experience.

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.

A Three Sisters Wilderness Trailhead Information Station Volunteer Corps


Volunteer John Flood, M.D., staffing the Green Lakes Trailhead.

Volunteer John Flood, M.D., staffed the Green Lakes Trail Head
Information Station for several summers.

By Les Joslin

“Now I want you to recruit and train and supervise wilderness volunteers to work at the trailhead so you can get back on the trails,” Marv responded to my written report on the Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station’s first summer of operations.

With this license, and eschewing such terms as “trailhead host” and “information kiosk” used by Marv and others, I set about recruiting a small group of volunteer “wilderness information specialists” possessed of first-hand knowledge of the Three Sisters Wilderness to operate the “information station” as uniformed Forest Service representatives. The station would be open nine hours daily from July 1 through Labor Day and on weekends into the fall.

“Working alone or in pairs,” my recruiting brochure and news releases advised, “volunteers will assist wilderness users and other national forest visitors by providing information and explaining the wilderness permit system, regulations, and etiquette. They will also gather visitor statistics and maintain trailhead facilities. Additional duties may include trail patrols.”

I laid out the details, and did so in a way that set the tone I intended as it assured potential volunteers they would not be just hanging out at a trailhead but doing a real Forest Service job for free.

Qualified persons at least 18 years of age who can commit at least one day per week may apply. In addition to familiarity with the Three Sisters Wilderness, volunteers should possess strong interpersonal skills and be physically capable of performing the full range of trailhead duties. Additional qualifying experience might include previous Forest Service or similar public contact service and relevant education. Current first aid and CPR certification also is useful. The Forest Service will provide supervision, pre-season and first-day on-the-job training, uniforms, and equipment. Volunteers are not considered federal employees, but they do receive legal protection as well as insurance for work-related injuries and reimbursement for certain expenses.

“The Forest Service,” I assured them, “needs reliable volunteers to supplement its small wilderness ranger force.” People who “are qualified, enjoy working with people, and would like serving as a ‘friendly face and a helping hand’ in the Three Sisters Wilderness this summer,” were invited to contact the Bend Ranger Station or me.

This challenging invitation attracted a few good volunteers from all walks of life. Two who proved the most active were Bend residents Larry Robertson, a retired General Motors executive engineer and former head of the Mount Bachelor ski patrol, and his wife Marian. Larry, a native of Corvallis, Oregon, and an Oregon State College aeronautical engineer who served as a U.S. Navy aviation maintenance officer during World War II and later helped design the Corvair and defend it before Congress from Ralph Nader, served at the trailhead station two or three days a week that summer and the next. As the summers went by, others included both active and retired Central Oregon doctors, lawyers, armed forces officers, and other professionals and retirees. Still others were college students who—along with Central Oregon Community College and Oregon State University, for both of which I taught part-time—eventually added another dimension to the project.

Training those volunteers—whom I referred to as Wilderness Information Specialists—at the trailhead station, staffing the station myself when no volunteer was scheduled, and patrolling trails while continuing the campsite surveys I’d begun in 1990 put me in the field for fifty-nine of the seventy-four days the station served over six thousand visitors that second summer.

Even after the previous summer’s shakedown, a few issues remained to be resolved. One of these was overnight wilderness permits. Day-use permits were self-issued at the trailheads, but overnight permits had to be obtained from a forest officer at a ranger station, and that could mean a sixty-mile roundtrip to Bend. On July 3, I made the case for trailhead volunteers to issue overnight permits to the Deschutes National Forest community affairs staff officer when he visited the station. “To the public, this is a ranger station.” On July 9, the Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station was authorized to issue overnight wilderness permits. A few years later, overnight permits, too, were self-issued at trailheads.

The success of the volunteer program begun at the Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station that summer of 1993 is reflected in statistics for the fourteen years during which a total of ninety-five uniformed volunteers I trained and qualified worked with me to staff the station for 997 days—8,560 hours—during which they represented the Forest Service and the wilderness concept to about 82,500 wilderness visitors and served another eight thousand Deschutes National Forest visitors who stopped by the station for other assistance and information. Add to those numbers the many wilderness visitors served by these same volunteers who staffed the Devils Lake wilderness trailheads about fifteen to twenty days annually for many of those years and patrolled wilderness trails, and the positive presence of these wilderness volunteers well exceeded ten thousand hours of service to more than one hundred thousand visitors served.


A Three Sisters Wilderness Trailhead Information Station First Season Finale

Note from Sharon: Les has been away and I got confused about the order of these posts.  So I will start posting them again, hopefully in the correct order.  The last one was posted in this series can be found here.

By Les Joslin

The last trailhead excitement of the Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station’s inaugural season occurred on September 6, the next-to-last day of its 1992 scheduled operations. It had been a fairly busy day. By 1600—just an hour before scheduled closing time—I’d assisted 139 visitors entering the wilderness, and the exodus of day-trippers was in full swing. Two of those handed me surprises.

The first, at 1620, brought me a note from a seasonal wilderness ranger requesting assistance with a fire at Moraine Lake. He hadn’t reported it to the fire dispatcher, so I wondered just what he had. I radioed the dispatcher that I would be leaving the station to “check out a situation” at Moraine Lake and would keep them apprised. The second surprise was at 1625. While I was preparing to leave for Moraine Lake, an upset woman handed me a loaded .45-caliber pistol she’d found somewhere on Broken Top. “A child could have found it and….” I thanked her, secured the pistol in the station, and left on the three and one-half mile walk to Moraine Lake at 1630.

I arrived at Moraine Lake not quite an hour later to find the youngster paid to be a wilderness ranger in tee shirt, shorts, and sandals—certainly not the prescribed uniform of a Forest Service wilderness ranger—and a disheveled, middle-aged camper poking around a large smoldering log inside a burned patch. “You really look the part,” the young wilderness ranger wisecracked about my uniform and yellow hardhat, fire pack, and tools.

“And what about you?” was my cold response.

“Well, er…,” he evaded.

“That’s what I thought. What happened here?”

“His camping stove…like, exploded…and caught the dry tree and brush…like, on fire.”

“So why’d you send me that note?”

“I didn’t want the responsibility….”

“What are you paid for?” was my rhetorical reply as I broke out my radio, advised Redmond Dispatch I was mopping up a small fire, and began doing that slipknot’s job while he sat and watched. An hour later I called dispatch, reported the fire out, didn’t mention the so-called wilderness ranger, and without a word to him left for the Green Lakes Trailhead in disgust.

The next day at the trailhead I served 126 wilderness visitors, turned the pistol over to a Forest Service law enforcement officer, and closed the station for the season.

That first season of trying the Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station on for size, those fifty days of serving 4,079 national forest visitors—2,847 day users, 118 of them on horseback; 679 backpackers beginning or completing overnight trips; and 556 visitors who didn’t enter the wilderness but required other information or assistance—convinced me that a staffed station at the most-used entrance to Oregon’s most-visited wilderness was an absolute necessity.

I put it all in my report. Wilderness visitors and the wilderness management effort needed knowledgeable wilderness information specialists not just to impart information and understanding visitors needed for successful wilderness experiences, but to provide a range of emergency services from first aid and dead car battery assistance to receiving and transmitting search and rescue needs and wildfire reports.

A Three Sisters Wilderness Trailhead Information Station

Les Joslin at Green Lakes Trailhead information station.
Les Joslin at Green Lakes Trailhead information station.

By Les Joslin

Marv arrived on the Deschutes National Forest that summer of 1991 as Bend Ranger District recreation forester responsible for wilderness and trails—and, therefore, for me. At the end of my second summer, when I turned in my campsite and trailhead surveys, he asked me what I thought the district’s wilderness management effort needed most.

“A trailhead information station at the Green Lakes Trailhead,” I answered immediately and explained why.

“You’re right,” Marv agreed, and asked if I’d pioneer such a station five days a week the next summer. I knew the wilderness well, and was a natural for the job. Since I couldn’t be paid a federal salary, I’d work on a small contract. “We’ll build a portable station, and you’ll staff it and work out how it works next summer.” I agreed to this first unexpected opportunity to address my Forest Service presence concern.

Over the winter, as I designed a wilderness trailhead information program, Marv enlisted a high school shop teacher to supervise construction of a sturdy little one-room, board-and-batten sided, shake-shingled building atop a rugged two-wheeled trailer bed that I would open the coming summer of 1992 as the Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station. I signed a contract to provide visitor information services there on Wednesdays through Sundays for fifty days from July 2 through September 7 at $49.50 per day.

Cold and rainy July 2, 1992, proved an inauspicious opening day for the Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station temporarily based—since the station structure hadn’t been completed—on a log at the trailhead. But I stood my post and served 18 visitors that first day, nine of whom actually began trips into the Three Sisters Wilderness. The others just wanted information, mostly about other things they could do on the Deschutes National Forest on cold and rainy days. The bad weather persisted over that Fourth of July weekend during which I served an even two hundred visitors—177 who took day trips into the wilderness, four who began overnight trips, and the rest who sought general information.

As the summer advanced and the weather improved, visitor numbers increased and the range of trailhead services they needed became apparent. Most needed information about trail travel and camping. The knowledge I’d gained during two seasons of trail patrols and campsite surveys, along with a mounted map of the wilderness and the excellent Geo-Graphics Three Sisters Wilderness maps provided by the Northwest Interpretive Association for me to sell, made that a snap. More challenging was explaining wilderness regulations and the new self-issued wilderness permits. I knew the regulations and the reasons for the permits, and my public contact experience as a Toiyabe National Forest fire prevention guard during the 1960s helped an even more mature me address these topics successfully with a wide range of visitors of varying viewpoints. Most appreciated the presence of “a ranger” and the services he could provide. Some wondered why I didn’t have a ranger station. “It’s coming,” I told them.

And on July 30, the little Green Lakes Trailhead Information Station building arrived and was installed at the trailhead. I wasted no time affixing the mounted wilderness map to its front wall and moving in. The increased visibility afforded by the building and a local television news feature on the wilderness shot there on July 31 got my trailhead operation even more notice.

The next morning, August 1, I arrived at the trailhead station to find a single wheel track leading into the wilderness. I soon put this together with a vehicle in the parking lot marked “Pole Pak” and determined that the inventor and manufacturer of this one-wheeled device to aid backpackers—a good idea, perhaps, but not compliant with wilderness regulations that precluded wheeled vehicles (except wheelchairs)—was testing or using the device. I documented this and reported it to my supervisor.

Marv, perhaps afraid I’d get bored spending five days a week on trailhead duty—and not knowing that being bored was a waste of time I do not permit myself, arranged for one of the Student Conservation Association volunteers to staff the station on August 9 so I could patrol to Moraine Lake. On August 20, wilderness ranger Jill held the fort while I patrolled the Green Lakes-Soda Creek loop and swapped ideas with Don Doyle, the Deschutes National Forest wilderness coordinator.

Word about the trailhead station got around, and on August 28 Forest Supervisor Joe Cruz, District Ranger Walt Schloer, and a couple staff officers along with former wilderness manager Jim Bradley, a professional staff member on the Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands, U.S. House of Representatives, took a look. Might my project, I began to wonder, make a difference beyond the Deschutes National Forest?

A Three Sisters Wilderness Trailhead Presence

Les Joslin collecting wilderness visitor data at Green Lakes Trailhead.
Les Joslin collecting wilderness visitor data at Green Lakes Trailhead entrance to Three Sisters Wilderness.

By Les Joslin

I made such a good start at those campsite surveys during 1990 that some of my Three Sisters Wilderness work during summer 1991 was focused on gathering information for a study about how visitors use and perceive wilderness. This put me in a position to meet about five times as many visitors as I had met the previous summer.

A trailhead—especially a heavily-used one—is a good place to contact wilderness visitors. There, where people begin and end wilderness visits, an appropriate Forest Service representative can do a lot of good. Visitors may be made to feel welcome—which they are—and provided useful information. Regulations may be explained. And violations of regulations—and thus, impact on the wilderness resource and the wilderness experiences of other visitors—may be prevented. And, in those days, permits—if required—could be issued.

I spent about a third of my wilderness duty days that second summer at the Green Lakes Trailhead, the most used Three Sisters Wilderness access point. There, for nine hours a day, I collected visitor use data through interviews and surveys, explained the new wilderness permit system instituted that summer, and answered questions.

That new wilderness permit resulted in the most questions. Yes, I answered, self-issued day-use wilderness permits—previously required in the late 1970s and early 1980s—were required from Memorial Day weekend through October. I likened these permits, for which there was no charge, to visit registrations. It was a softer word. Overnight permits were issued by forest officers.

One regulation, prohibiting use of mechanized equipment—including mountain bikes—in the wilderness, required frequent explanation. One day that summer, after explaining the wilderness idea to two young men with mountain bikes who wanted to follow two young women on horseback around the Fall Creek-Soda Creek loop trail, I explained how any form of mechanical transport—except wheelchairs—is incompatible with the legal and ethical definitions of wilderness. They accepted my explanation, and the map of Deschutes National Forest mountain bike trails I offered as an alternative.

“Have you ever seen a wheelchair in the wilderness?” one asked.

“No, I haven’t,” I replied.

But, as fate would have it, I did later that afternoon. A man and wife with two children, one a seriously handicapped toddler in a three-wheeled conveyance, arrived at the trailhead. The conveyance qualified as a wheelchair.

“We plan to go in for a night or two. It’ll be the kids’ first time,” the man explained. “We thought we’d try Green Lakes. What do you think?”

“Well, it’s pretty late in the day to start for the Green Lakes, especially with the children. And the weather forecast calls for storms in the Cascades tonight. If you’re going into the wilderness, I think you’d be better off going to Moraine Lake. It’s closer, easier to get to, and there’s more cover there.” I told him how to get there, and showed him on a map. The couple thanked me.

“Do you have an overnight wilderness permit?” I asked. At that time, overnight permits had to be issued by a forest officer.

“No. Guess we forgot to get one.”

“I’ll issue you a permit, and you can be on your way.”

And soon they were. I admired their determination to experience the wilderness with their children despite their young son’s condition.

It stormed that night.

A Three Sisters Wilderness Trails Presence

Wilderness ranger standing by lake
Les Joslin collecting campsite data in Three Sisters Wilderness.

 By Les Joslin

My first summer in the Three Sisters Wilderness included several days locating and surveying campsites along the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, a dozen or so miles of which I accessed via bumpy old Road 600 that took me to the trailhead on the southwestern bank of Irish Lake. Despite that famous trail’s popularity, public contacts proved far and few between.

The only person I met on the Pacific Crest Trail one of those 1990 summer days made an immediate impression on me. Why? The first thing I noticed about him was the big pistol he packed on his hip. “Do you know where Dennis Lake is?” he asked. “My name is Dennis and I want to camp at Dennis Lake.” I got out my map and showed him how to get there. “Thanks,” he said. And that was that.

Another day that summer, I met a young couple camped along that stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail at Brahma Lake. I introduced myself and explained my purpose before I began to collect the data I needed at their campsite. “Do you know where Bristah Lake is?” the young woman asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “It’s along the trail about h

alf way between the Mirror Lakes Trailhead and the Mirror Lakes.” I’d already surveyed that area.

“Do you know how it got its name?”

“No, but I think I’m about to find out.”

“My name is Cheryl Bristah,” she continued. “”I have two sisters. My husband—my fiancé at the time—took me to a charity ball in Portland and made the winning bid on a prize offered by the publisher of the Three Sisters Wilderness map.” That was Geo-Graphics in Beaverton, Oregon. “The prize was naming that little lake.” Apparently her fiancé saw a certain symmetry in naming the little unnamed Three Sisters Wilderness lake for the three Bristah sisters, and did so on the next edition of the map.

Some years later I amazed a friend who served on the Oregon Geographic Names Board with that story. “They can’t do that!” he and, later, the whole board said, and so advised the map publisher.

A couple I met one September 1991 evening on the Pacific Crest Trail stretch between the Wickiup Plain and Sisters Mirror Lake—where I’d just finished my survey of the many camping sites around that lake and its several sister lakes—made my day when, after a brief discussion, they expressed appreciation at meeting a wilderness ranger on the trail. “We’ve hiked up here for years, and you’re the first ranger we’ve ever seen!” Just my presence, they said, assured them the Forest Service really cared and affirmed their faith in the government.

I felt good, even as I felt concern for the Forest Service’s minimal presence in this most visited unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System in Oregon noted for its scenic trails that included something over forty miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. A good encounter with a ranger should be part of a visitor’s wilderness experience, it seemed to me.

As it happened, my feeling for the land and the people kept me serving as a friendly face and a helping hand in the Three Sisters Wilderness—albeit in many ways I didn’t anticipate—for many summers to come even as it opened doors to other unexpected opportunities.

Les Joslin Returns with Wilderness Ranger Stories



Les Joslin returned to U.S. Forest Service work in 1990 in the Three Sisters Wilderness in Oregon.

A quarter century after the five Toiyabe National Forest summers he recently shared with The Smokey Wire readers, Les Joslin—a retired U.S. Navy commander—returned to U.S. Forest Service work. He did so in 1990 as a volunteer wilderness ranger on the Deschutes National Forest—a volunteer because the Dual Compensation Act of 1964 prevented retired regular officers of the armed forces from pursuing federal civil service employment without significant reduction of their earned retirement pay. Les served 10 summers in the Three Sisters Wilderness without federal compensation until Congress repealed the Dual Compensation Act in late 1999, then another four summers as a GS-5 forestry technician before he accepted a full-time GS-11 appointment as team leader for recreation, heritage, wilderness, special uses, lands and minerals, and roads on the million-acre Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District in which he served until shortly after his sixty-second birthday. “All the great stories,” he says, “happened during those 14 field seasons in the wilderness.”


A Three Sisters Wilderness Volunteer


By Les Joslin


During spring 1990, almost two years after I’d retired from the U.S. Navy in Washington, D.C., and moved with my wife and two daughters to Central Oregon, I got wind of an opportunity to serve on the Deschutes National Forest as a Three Sisters Wilderness volunteer wilderness ranger. In addition to regular trail patrols, the person chosen for this position would conduct visitor impact surveys of every identifiable place anybody had ever camped along the trails and around the lakes of the roughly fifty-thousand-acre portion of that wilderness managed by the Bend Ranger District (later lumped with the Fort Rock Ranger District).

This wilderness, like the Hoover Wilderness in the Toiyabe National Forest on which I’d worked the summers of 1962 through 1966, was one of the original fifty-four designated by Congress when it passed the Wilderness Act of 1964 which established the National Wilderness Preservation System and provided for its management. A unique, closely-grouped cluster of four major volcanic peaks—the Three Sisters for which it is named and Broken Top—and surrounding Deschutes and Willamette national forest lands comprise the 286,708-acre preserve then administered by five ranger districts on these two national forests. I’d not had reason—other than compelling desire—to visit this wonderful area. This volunteer opportunity gave me that reason.

I applied, was interviewed and signed up, issued a uniform and a badge, oriented to my duties by a supervisory wilderness ranger named Deb, and soon on the job. As explained above, I began working on the Deschutes National Forest that summer of 1990 as a volunteer. I worked as a volunteer because this was work I wanted to do and knew I could do well. My five summers on the Toiyabe National Forest had included Hoover Wilderness patrols.

The work involved campsite condition surveys (pursuant to a “limits of acceptable change” management concept) and visitor contact in the Three Sisters Wilderness. This entailed walking to all the lakes along the trails—and cross-country to lakes not along trails—within the Bend Ranger District part of the wilderness. That’s a good-sized piece of country stretching from the popular Green Lakes in the north to the relatively isolated and much-less-visited Irish and Taylor lakes in the south, and westward to the Cascade crest.

Along those trails and around each lake I located all—or as close to all as possible—the places people had camped, then evaluated and recorded the impact of camping at each campsite on both the wilderness resource and the visitor experience. In addition to entering some thirty measurements and judgements reflecting those impacts and the condition of each site on a form that would eventually find its way into a computerized database, I sketch mapped and photographed each site. Assessing the situation along each trail and at each lake as a whole, I made recommendations regarding each site’s continued use for camping or closure for rehabilitation. The purpose was to produce a wilderness use and impacts baseline to inform wilderness management decisions.

And, as I traveled the trails, I represented the Forest Service and its management efforts to visitors and provided information and assistance they needed. Many visitors were surprised to see a Forest Service representative in the wilderness. Most were pleased.

By the end of that summer of 1990 I had worked twenty-five sunrise-to-sunset days, located and evaluated 254 campsites at 29 lakes and along many miles of trail, and pretty well learned the country. I had walked hundreds of miles, slapped thousands of mosquitoes that ignored my government-issued bug dope, and met 338 wilderness visitors.