Chelsea Muise and Rachael Hohl are two Payson forest rangers with big dreams for the woods in their care.
“Our goal is to get a volunteer organization going,” said Hohl.
The two rangers have scheduled volunteer workdays the first weekend of every month. They next workday scheduled will be this Saturday, Jan. 7 starting at 9 a.m. in the Houston-Mesa campground.
Both Hohl and Muise work under the recreation department of the Tonto National Forest. With their ideas, they hope to enhance the recreational experience.
“The Tonto is one of the largest and busiest forests in the nation. There are only three of us to educate and get the correct word out,” said Muise.
Managing the forest resources on 193 million acres of land includes restoring and enhancing landscapes, protecting and enhancing water resources, rangeland use, timber production and wildlife.
Yet recreation has evolved into a major priority of the Forest Service since automobile production increased at the turn of the century, according to the forest historical society.
Closer to home, improving the recreational experience started this past summer when residents of the Whispering Pines and Rim Trails communities expressed their concerns over campers on the East Verde.
Hohl and Muise joined forces with the Whispering Pines fire department and community members to educate campers on how to correctly put out campfires and offered trash collection sites.
“We signed up volunteers, got paperwork on each one and held a safety session on how to properly put out a campfire. Then officers from the Forest Service and fire department went out with members of the community with fliers to educate about campfire safety and trash removal,” said Hohl.
Their efforts not only improved the safety and cleanliness of campsites, the rangers found a better group of recreationalists visiting the area.
“It’s like the broken window syndrome — once the community, forest and fire departments showed an interest, the demographics improved,” said Hohl and Muise.
The idea of creating a community volunteer group is not new to either Hohl or Muise. Both worked in the Coronado forest and worked with “friends of” groups in the Tucson area.
Hohl also spent over a year working in the Teton National Forest.
She lived near Jackson Hole, Wyo., “the capital of non-profits,” where friends-of groups covered all aspects of forest needs.
“Our dream is to have a docent program and volunteer groups to rebuild trails, paint bathrooms, replace trail signs and keep the forest clean and safe,” said Hohl.
So far the rangers have hosted two forest cleanup events. They understand they need to start slow and then build up a core group. So far, not many have participated due to weather.
“At the first one we scheduled in November, it rained. Only five people showed up. At the second one in December, it snowed. Only two people showed up at that event,” said Hohl.
Hohl and Muise have their fingers crossed for this weekend — the weather service predicts mostly sunny conditions.
For more information on volunteer opportunities or to share ideas, please call either ranger at (928) 474-7900.