07 November 2023

It’s the little things: celebrating a shared love for the Earth, wholesome backcountry banter, and long drives with the windows down through Yosemite

Written by: Victoria Lodico

The past couple of months have been filled with many firsts: my first time celebrating National Public Lands Day, my first attempt at summiting the highest mountain in the contiguous United States, my first experience campsite surveying and spending the night in an official forest service cabin, and my first time visiting the Stanislaus National Forest- the other forest that I serve as an RA for in addition to the Inyo NF.

This year for National Public Lands Day, the Mono Basin Visitor Center held their second annual celebration and the turnout was one for the books! Representatives from eight partner groups came out and the majority even had booths with handouts for visitors. Being that this was my first time celebrating NPLD, my standards weren’t too particularly high, however shortly after the festivities began I could already sense my expectations being surpassed. The day started out with some early morning yoga on the patio and then I ensured that all volunteers were ‘signed in for the day’ through their acknowledgement of the NPLD designated Job Hazard Assessment form and sent them off to their respective volunteer activities. The volunteer options offered ranged in intensity and included cleaning up native plant displays around the Visitor Center, lopping around Lundy Lake, and a trash pick-up along June Lake. Having never visited Lundy Lake myself before, I decided to join in on this project. Here, I was able to help perform necessary trail maintenance while overlooking the most breathtaking lake- what more could a girl ask for! After a few hours at the work site, the volunteers and I reconvened for some group photos and lunch. One of the recreation officers was kind enough to make tortillas and strawberry kiwi cake for volunteers so after our hard work we all made sure to dig in and thank the chef. 

As if the experiences afforded through my Forest Service work could get any better, two weeks later I was given the opportunity to tag along with assistant rec officer, Jessica May, to ascend the tallest mountain in the lower 48, Mount Whitney. Here, we checked in on the California Conservation Crews’ trail maintenance progress. With Mount Whitney being a household name amongst hikers, the work completed by these crews is essential to keeping the path up and running. The crews primarily focused on stabilizing creek crossings, rebuilding trail steps, eliminating social trails, and lopping overgrown vegetation. Coming from Texas with a whopping 500 ft elevation, it was such a worthwhile experience getting to tackle one of the most challenging 14ers all while on the clock. 

After I gave my legs some time to recover, a little later in the month I was invited out into the field to assist with some campsite surveying at Saddlebag Lake, a popular recreation spot just east of Yosemite. While on this work endeavor, I was able to learn what criteria qualifies a campsite as illegal along with what indicators to look for when surveying campsites such as fire rings, mutilations to the surrounding vegetation, abnormal rock placement, etc. The data collected from these field days will then be used to create maps that will signify what areas need better protection and management. 

Last, but not least I was finally able to make my way over to the Stanislaus NF for the first time since joining the team back in the summer. While here, I was able to put faces to names and visit crucial work and volunteer sites first hand. Between exploring all four of the districts that make up Stanislaus, by the end of the week I was able to garner a much deeper understanding of the largest areas for growth with the particular community dynamic in mind, considering the forests' close proximity to Yosemite. All in all these past five months have been nothing short of amazing and I’m looking forward to seeing what my first snowy winter as a forest service employee has in store- until next time!


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