You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who is more of a friend to trails in our region than Jeff Outhier. Jeff is the U.S.Forest Service representative for our area, and he brings a breath-taking, wide-ranging knowledge of everything from how to use a crosscut saw to the management of wildfires to the invasive weeds that threaten the forest environment. Even more importantly, Jeff lives much of his daily life out on the more than 200 trails in our two mountain ranges. I saw down with him recently to ask him about his work as it pertains to trails.
One of the most impressive things is Jeff’s heart. He doesn’t simply know a lot of information in his mind - he loves this place deeply. He experiences the area in which we live as unique, filled with a whole range of ecological zones, so close to the megapolis of the Front Range, and yet so untouched compared with almost all the outdoor environments near those cities. And this in turn fuels his passion for the wide range of responsibilities of his work (“We get to do a little bit of everything”) without getting pigeon-holed into one single niche of outdoor work.
Listen to just a few of his duties: fire-mitigation, trail rebuilding, educating the public, giving permits for the gathering of firewood and Christmas trees, overseeing the grazing of cattle on Federal land, and engaging volunteers like those of us in Trails For All in the ongoing work of trail clearing. The wonderful thing about it is that he gets to do so much of it on and with his mules, which may be the greatest passion of his life!
In light of all of that he loves, I asked Jeff what one thing would he change if he could about his work. Without hesitation, he named the centralization of the U.S.Forest Service.
It used to be that the Forest Service delegated a good deal of authority and responsibility to local districts, trusting their people to apply national mandates creatively to locally unique situations. This depended upon the Forest Service people out on the front lines to be generalists, who operated with a wide range of skills and expertise. Today, however, the U.S.F.S. is moving towards more and more centralization and specialization, which favors far more a “one size fits all” set of solutions. As Jeff puts it, they’re losing their “connection to the ground.” The institutional memory of the Forest Service, which makes it one of (if not) the most unique organizations in the world, is being lost in the pursuit of efficiency and sameness.
Jeff oversees a small Forest Service office, with basically two seasonal employees and volunteers like Trails For All. This has come about because of decades of underfunding by the Federal government. As a result some of what the Wilderness Act of 1964 defines and mandates as Federal law cannot be enforced; there simply isn’t enough time, people, or resources to do it all. That’s one reason why volunteers and groups like Trails For All matter so very much - we extend the reach and efforts of the Forest Service at little or no cost to the agency. This summer, Jeff is hoping to deploy TFA in the clearing, daylighting, and maintaining of many of the most traveled lake trails: Comanche, Venable, Horn Lakes, Lake of the Clouds, Swift, N.Taylor, S.Colony, Horn Peak, Dry Creek, Macey, and Goodwin. He also is highly supportive of anything we can do to educate people in best practices in the out-of-doors, through our clinics and special events.
I asked him if there was one thing he wanted from the public, with regards to the use of trails in our area. The answer was on the tip of his tongue: “Realize your impact on others.” Every time we go out, we’re going to impact the environment of our forests and trails, for better or worse. Every decision we make, every step we take, we're changing our environment. Be aware and make good choices.
As we finished the interview I wondered out loud what he does with “free time,” if there ever is any! And he said simply, “You’ll find me out in the forest with my mules.” Enough said.
We have a treasure in this “old school” Forest Service ranger. We are incredibly fortunate. If you’d like to join us in ways in which we can extend his work, please sign up to be a part of trail maintenance in 2019.