By Lindsay Butcher, Lead Trail Ambassador

Flowing southeast from White Mountain Peak, Cottonwood Creek is fed by numerous springs that pop up all the way into the Great Basin Desert.

In 2009, as part of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act signed by President Barack Obama, Cottonwood Creek was designated as a protected Wild and Scenic River (WSR). Today, the creek’s comprehensive management plan is still under development; however, its WSR designation meant no more cattle grazing in the area.

From August 6 through 9, Friends of the Inyo set out with a hard-working group of volunteers and Inyo National Forest Service rangers to remove old cattle exclosures/enclosures and fencing.

We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into…

The road getting down into Cottonwood Canyon is considered black diamond 4×4 expert only. We made it safely with only minimal sharp gasps, passenger pressing of imaginary brake pedals, and most of our teeth rattled. After setting up camp, we scouted down into the canyon for our cattle exclosures. (Fun fact: These exclosures were built to keep cattle OUT—and protect certain species of plants.)

We found the first exclosure about 1 mile down the trail and quickly dispatched it, setting aside the materials we removed for later extraction. We scouted further down river for more exclosures and found one more set of barbed wire fences another half a mile downstream. Pinning the location on our GPS, we decided to return the next day for a full day of removal.

Before setting out for this project, we were told—erroneously—that the exclosures were approximately one-quarter mile downstream.

Well, when hiking downhill toward the fences, it really does only feel like a quarter mile. However, when hiking uphill through an overgrown trail, hauling out hundreds of pounds of fencing materials, you feel every inch of the 1.25 miles it actually is! Who needs CrossFit when you have trail work?!

Despite the long, laden trek back up the canyon, we were fairly efficient at breaking down the two creek-side exclosures downstream and quickly worked ourselves out of projects in the area; so we headed upstream, where we found thousands of feet of barbed wire spanning the entire canyon and set straight across the creek. The next two days were dedicated to this particular torture.

Sneezing from the sagebrush mixed with smoke from faraway wildfires, our skin stinging from the bites of the barbed wire and splinters, our shoulders sore from having to yank, then haul steaks and stanchions, we worked through it all with high spirits, smiling and joking with one another for encouragement. We couldn’t have asked for a better team: Peter, Ken, Tiffany and Ian, our volunteers; Amy and Aaron from the U.S. Forest Service, and myself from Friends of the Inyo.

This is what we accomplished together:

Removed:

  • 3 exclosures
  • 1,875 feet of fence
  • 8,325 feet of single-strand of barbed wire (the fence we were dismantling had 4 to 5 strands)
  • 156 T-posts
  • 7 eight-foot wooden posts
  • 7 four-foot wooden posts
  • 5 fire rings

Installed:

  • 1 Wild & Scenic River sign

Made:

  • 2 public contacts
  • Countless memories

Restored to a more pristine, untrammeled Wilderness: 

  • 1 beautiful area along Cottonwood Creek

To learn more about Friends of the Inyo’s Trail Ambassador Program visit friendsoftheinyo.org/trailambassadors.

(Photo Caption: In the bottom left photo of the composite above, Volunteer Backcountry Wilderness Week Team Members pose proudly with the Wild and Scenic River sign they put up at Cottonwood Creek. L-R: Foreground: USFS Wilderness Ranger Amy Wicks, Volunteer Tiffany McCall; Back: Volunteer Ken Miller (kneeling), USFS Ranger Aaron Hutton, Volunteer Peter Schulz, FOI Lead Trail Ambassador Lindsay Butcher, and Volunteer Ian Bell.)

Comments (2)

I am so grateful for your efforts. It has been decades since I’ve visited Cottonwood Creek, but knowing its legally protected and you’re making efforts to resurrect its natural state, causes me great pleasure.
The vivid description of driving the vehicle trail into the creek, definitely revives memories!

I am very happy to learn of the work done along the creek and in the canyon. I am fortunate enough to have land in the Northern part of the range, very close to two creeks that flow eastward, and a short drive to the Boundary Peak trailhead. I look forward to spending part of the year there and getting involved with Friends of the Inyo and helping out.

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