Wild Basin & Longs Peak Volunteers

Kids are back in school and the elk are bugling all night long; it's definitely fall in Rocky. As the summer season begins to wind down, I had the chance to head up Mary's Lake Road to check in with volunteers stationed at the Wild Basin and Longs Peak ranger stations.

Jan and Sonja independently began their service as Wild Basin volunteers by substituting in for other VIPs and decided to continue returning season after season…for over ten years. As with many volunteers, they find the most rewarding part of their job to be interacting with visitors to the area. After Sonja moved to Texas 43 years ago, she started coming to Rocky for vacations and has returned every year to continue enjoying the park. She mentioned specifically her excitement this year upon arriving to see that Copeland Lake, a man made feature just inside the Wild Basin area, is once again full after the water level had been very low for a few years. This has been an unusually hazardous season at Wild Basin, as they've dealt with a few visitors who have fallen into the North St. Vrain River, and both Jan and Sonja are looking forward to the fall foliage and a change in visitor demographics as families transition back into the school year.

1 -Longs Peak
Jim talks about climbing Longs

NPS

Traveling back down Highway 7, I stopped in at the Longs Peak Ranger Station to spend some time with Jim and Billy, another set of wonderful VIPs. As I entered the ranger station, Jim was speaking to a group of six who had plans to camp at the Boulderfield and ascend Longs the next day. Prior to his 13 years at Rocky, Jim worked as a lobbyist in the DC area and has spent time in the National Park Service on bike patrol along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Since joining the Rocky volunteer team, he has filled at least eight different roles in the park, including work with mountain lions and toads. For Jim, the most important part of his job at Longs Peak is to "instill a respect for the mountain" in visitors to ensure that they "pay attention and are aware" of the many dangers involved in climbing Rocky's tallest mountain. He knows firsthand how critical it is to take this mountain seriously, having done the cable route in 1958 and the keyhole route multiple times over subsequent years. At the end of his spiel to the group, he reminded them that they must constantly keep three things in mind: "you, the mountain, and the weather."

Billy was roving out on the trail when I first arrived, no surprise for someone whose personal life motto is "hike to live and live to hike." This is his 8th season at Longs, and over his time here, Billy feels that the people he works with have "become a family of friends." He is one of the few volunteers I've met who began his VIP career in the Colorado River District, working in the Corral Creek area. He mentioned the unique situation of working in that area, as it is the confluence of Rocky Mountain National Park, Comanche Peaks Wilderness, and Roosevelt National Forest. In 2006, he moved over the divide to start volunteering at Bear Lake, and he continues to work there as well as Longs Peak and Wild Basin.

2 - Longs Peak 350X233
Speaking with a hiker about trail conditions

NPS

3 - Longs Peak 350X233
Billy and Blake, always ready for visitors

NPS

The volunteers at Wild Basin and Longs Peak do an incredible amount of preventative search and rescue for hikers who want to explore these beautiful areas. I was impressed with their professional and informative approach to visitor questions and their depth and breadth of knowledge about hiking and activities throughout the park. As they interacted with visitors and each other, I saw exemplified Billy's earlier statement about Rocky being such a great place to work because "everybody is happy," visitors and volunteers alike!

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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Mailing Address:

1000 US Hwy 36
Estes Park, CO 80517

Phone:

(970) 586-1206
Through winter, the Information Office is open 8:00 am–4:30 pm Mon–Fri. Recorded Trail Ridge Road status: (970) 586-1222.

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