Tales From The Trail
Photos from Moose Creek and Dry Ridge Solitude Monitoring outings in the Jedediah Smith Wilderness, Summer 2022.
There’s a sinkhole in the Jedediah Smith Wilderness nicknamed the “Bud-hole.” How it got its name involves a group of spirited Solitude Monitors, a discarded can of Budweiser, and a no-trash-left-behind ethos. Less than a year into the position of Bridger-Teton Organizer, co-leading an outing that culminated in the name “Bud-hole” with a mix of Teton Valley Broadband (WHALES Chapter of Great Old Broads for Wilderness) and WWA volunteers is an experience I won’t soon forget. And for me, that’s the beauty of this citizen-science Solitude Monitoring program – the community forged in these wild places. Shared experiences in the Wilderness resonate at a deeper frequency, strengthening our connection to each other and our wildlands.
WWA’s Solitude Monitoring program began as a part of the curriculum for our Youth Ambassadors to Wilderness (YAW) program. When Covid-19 struck in 2020 and canceled YAW, WWA pivoted to offer this volunteer stewardship initiative as a standalone program in partnership with Gros Ventre Wilderness managers, recognizing people would need Wilderness more than ever, and as a result, agency managers would need help more than ever monitoring that influx in use.
We were right, both the Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee National Forests rely on monitoring to understand user experience within their respective Wilderness areas. That's where citizen scientists come in. Our Solitude Monitoring program provides a robust dataset to inform management decisions and resources. Required of each forest, Solitude Monitoring captures data to recognize trends and use through a larger program known as Wilderness Stewardship Performance.
In the few years since the program was initiated, two more Wilderness areas have come online for volunteer Solitude Monitoring – the Jedediah Smith and Teton. The Bridger will join as the fourth regional Wilderness area volunteers can help monitor in 2023. To date, WWA has helped train over 170 citizen scientists and those volunteers have contributed over 2,200 volunteer hours to this project. In the 2022 field season so far, volunteers have already collected 17 data points from 10 monitoring locations across the Gros Ventre and Jedediah Smith. With over a month and a half left in the field season, possibly more depending on snowfall, I expect that count will continue to climb.
Participating in Solitude Monitoring is a simple and easy way to give back to these incredible wild places. It offers a new perspective into management of these protected landscapes and a glimpse into what it means to keep these experiences intact and these places untrammeled. If this work resonates with you, please reach out to Carlie to find out how you can get involved and consider donating to Wyoming Wilderness Association during the Old Bill’s giving season. While we aren’t hosting any more in-person trainings for 2022, stay tuned for next year’s programming. After all, maybe you’ll get to name the next unique geographic feature.