“You get to connect with others in a way that reminds you how good people are.”
By Ben Wickham
My first job out of college was in the Yosemite Wilderness, and being from Idaho, I knew nothing about the Sierra Nevada. It never occurred to me that mountains existed in California. That summer at Merced Lake changed me, and I fell in love with the unique, spectacular characteristics of the Sierra Nevada High Country.
After reading that opening paragraph, you can probably connect the dots on how I ended up at Friends of the Inyo and how important our work in the High Sierra is to me. I love our volunteer events in the Mammoth Lakes Basin. Meeting Athenian High students deep in the Ansel Adams Wilderness for trail work is always a highlight of the summer. I can’t wait to get out to the Golden Trout Wilderness and check out the trail work around Big Whitney Meadow that our Stewardship Crew did this summer.
If there’s one thing Friends of the Inyo did in 2016 I am most proud of, it would be the Humphreys Basin Volunteer Project. I can’t begin to tell how inspiring the stories I heard from the volunteers were. I’m envious that I did not get to join them for the whole trip because they had a lot of fun out there, and in this line of work, I think having fun matters the most sometimes.
I feel like I’ve already written enough about the Humphreys Basin Volunteer Project– so has Janet Carle– so I’m going to take the liberty of telling you about the work we did in 4th Recess the summer before. In two days of work between a volunteer named Geoff, three rangers from the Sierra National Forest, myself and one other Friends of the Inyo crew member, we restored one illegal campsite, improved another, took down six illegal fire rings, and removed 15 pounds of trash. There are plenty of great campsites at 4th Recess Lake, and it felt empowering to see the restoration process change a place from looking dusty to looking natural. The best part of these work trips is that through four days of hiking alongside each other, working together, cooking at the same time, watching the sunset side by side, you get to connect with others in a way that really reminds you how good people are.
On our last day out there, Geoff and I hiked to Pioneer Basin, a high basin full of smooth granite and grassy meadows that has become one of my favorite places in the Sierra. I led Geoff to the third lake because I knew it had a view that would astound him and the fishing opportunity he was looking for. So while Geoff fished, I sat on the ground with my back against a boulder with the sun on my face and felt that good feeling you feel in places like this. And I rooted for Geoff to catch a fish.
Geoff fished for a while longer, then came and sat near me. Although he didn’t say anything, by the look on his face, I had a feeling I knew what he was thinking:
This place is beautiful.
I’m lucky to be here right now.
I’m proud that I worked hard to make it better.
I’m coming back with a friend or loved one sometime to share this with them.
Then I realized Friends of the Inyo’s trinity of Preservation, Exploration, and Stewardship do not exist exclusively, although too often we think of it that way. We clearly stewarded the place, but through the process, the rangers, Geoff and I got to explore a place, and through that act of being stewards, and because of our beautiful morning, I’m sure that both Geoff and I will always be advocates for the preservation of the possibility of anyone experiencing Pioneer Basin and 4th Recess Lake, just as we were able to on that July morning.
I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to foresee immense challenges on our public lands in the next four years. However, I’m optimistic that by integrating Preservation, Exploration, and Stewardship, Friends of the Inyo can provide positive, on the ground, forward movement through its programs in 2017. I believe we can connect with and empower the public in the process of caring for special places in the Sierra, just as we were able to on the Humphreys Basin and 4th Recess Projects.
*Photos courtesy of, top to bottom: Ben Wickham, Ben Wickham, Ben Wickham, Michael Rodman, Ben Wickham, Michael Rodman, Michael Rodman, Michael Rodman.