By Ben Taylor
If you ever find yourself on the “About” section of the Gate 15 website, you would see under the “Our Purpose” section (and bolded I might add) “contributing to the communities in which we live” is an expectation of all team members. Until I got my employee contract I didn’t know exactly how Andy defined that. I quickly discovered that employees were given one additional week of PTO in order to do a service project which holds personal meaning to them. Upon reading that, it became immediately clear why I had made the right choice to join the company.
I’ve lived and traveled across much of the U.S. so I may define “communities in which we live” a little more loosely than some. But for my service project I took the opportunity to return to Montana, a place I visited often as a kid, which holds a very special place in my heart. As an avid outdoorsman I knew I wanted to find an opportunity that would give back to our natural world, while also letting me experience more of it after more a year of COVID house arrest. I found the perfect opportunity with the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness Foundation. The AB Wilderness’s vast 944,000 acres primarily reside in southern Montana, immediately north of Yellowstone National Park. This summer I was able to spend a week with the ABWF team and participate in two ongoing efforts of theirs: the Trail Ambassador Program, as well as a trail maintenance project alongside the U.S. Forest Service.
For the first part of my service week I spent three days serving as a Trail Ambassador at the East Rosebud Lake trailhead, about an hour drive from Red Lodge, MT. That particular project is so important to the organization because over the course of the pandemic the wilderness area has gotten exponentially more traffic, and many of the people visiting have never been to a wilderness area before and don’t understand the importance of “Leave No Trace” to protect these natural treasures. Several local residents dropped by in the days I was there (the trailhead goes through private property, and the uptick in irresponsible visitors was a cause for concern) who truly appreciated the ABWF’s efforts to educate the public and help preserve the land. During this portion of my trip I spoke with 128 people from 23 different states about the importance of being good stewards of the land. It was fun to learn about how people were traveling and planning to utilize the wilderness area, and I think it was a positive to have someone there helping to reinforce best practices.
For the second part of my service week I hooked up with one of the trail crews that was working along the Lake Abundance Trail in another part of the wilderness area. These volunteer trail crews are organized by ABWF and work at the direction of the U.S. Forest Service. Our project was to create a trail that would detour around a swampy section of trail which was currently being serviced by several old footbridges. Moving the trail to drier ground was preferable as it helped return the land to a more natural state, and over the years trails require less maintenance than the bridges. I had two solid days of hard labor on either end of a full day hike in and out of the site. All of our work gear was brought in on pack horses which belonged to another organization, the Beartooth Backcountry Horsemen. We worked on such a small piece of the overall trail, maybe completing 1-2 miles, but it was incredibly rewarding at the end of each day to look back at the progress we had made, and think of the generations that will be able to better explore the area because of our work.
We speak about partnerships and collaboration a lot in the work we do at Gate 15, both in the public, private, and NGO sectors. One of the aspects I loved so much about this project was all the entities that worked together to make it happen.Ben Taylor
The U.S. Forestry Service provided the vision, project management, as well as seasoned work crews. The ABWF supplemented those crews by recruiting volunteers, and they wouldn’t be able to carry out their missions without the support of private sponsorships and grants. And finally, none of us would have been able to get to the work site without the support of the pack horses, and those who donated their time to guide those horses in support of the effort. It takes a whole lot of people working together, to make sure that a whole lot of people don’t take advantage of our wild places. I’m thankful for Gate 15 giving me the opportunity to have this experience, and I can’t wait to see what I can help with next year.