Crosscut Trail Clearing in the Mt. Evans Wilderness
Just an hour or so west of Denver’s urban sprawl lies the Mount Evans Wilderness, a vast stretch of heavy forest and high mountain peaks. Out here, the night sky retains a twinge of light pollution even in the darkest hour – and yet the days are unmarred by human intervention aside from the trail beneath one’s feet. A Rocky Mountain Youth Corps trail crew wakes at dawn to begin their work day – their breath makes small white puffs of vapor in the early light as they emerge from frosty tent flaps and laugh over steaming, mud-streaked mugs of cowboy coffee. Some are on heyday from their college education, pursuing degrees in natural resource management or the likes. Others lack such scholarly
direction, and are here in pursuit of some profound happiness that stems from getting their hands dirty. Others still have had a hard time fitting in much of anywhere, but seem to find their stride in the backcountry. They stretch their sore arm muscles and stuff their lunches in day packs, several crew members taking the long crosscut saw blades out of the tool cache and bending them in a large “U” shape to lash down to their backpacks for the hike to work.
The Cub Creek Trail was once a popular hiking destination for “Front Rangers” (a nickname given to those who dwell along the densely populated Fort Collins/Boulder/Denver corridor that abuts the east side of the Continental Divide) but, in 2011, a violent winter storm blew through the surrounding wilderness and laid down thousands of trees in a mess that would look like giant piles of toothpicks if viewed from high overhead. Cub Creek, Lost Creek, and Bear Tracks Trails (among others) were buried under the masses of timber. In some sections, the downed tree density measured more than 600 per mile. If approached from a mechanized perspective,
heavy equipment might have been able to clean up this type of mess relatively quickly – but the particular nature of this wilderness meant that the project would have to wait for human energy to get the work done. Namely, the Wilderness Act forbids use of motorized equipment within wilderness boundaries – so chainsaws are set aside in favor of two-person crosscut saws. This tool is mentally relegated to black and white images of the early American West for some, and yet for backcountry trail crew members in 2015, it is representative of a land ethic worth holding to immeasurable value. The legacy of this tool is one of hard-won accomplishment. It is a legacy tied to the sweat on one’s brow, the soreness of muscles, and the singing sound the saw’s blade makes as it passes through cambium.