Earlier this season, ITA collaborated with the Selway Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation on the Goat Ridge Youth project in the Nez Perce Clearwater National Forest. Four ITA teen volunteers worked alongside three SBFC Wilderness Ranger Fellows with the objective to clear the Goat Ridge Trail starting at the Shearer Airstrip and working as far as possible towards Wylies Peak. Three leaders from ITA and SBFC provided guidance but the college-age Fellows directly taught trail maintenance skills to the ITA youth.

ITA crew leader Mark Sugden was impressed with the way the SBFC Fellows mentored the younger crew members. “It immediately became apparent to the leaders of both groups that we had a perfect educational opportunity to both observe and assess the teaching provided by the Fellows as well as the learning that took place among the ITA youth.” Mark observed, “Providing this kind of education plays directly to the very mission of the two organizations.  This all played out over three days in a realistic backcountry setting provided by the beautiful Selway Bitterroot Wilderness.  I couldn’t have imagined a better or more successful training experience for the participants of this combined trail crew.”

Overall, the ITA and SBFC crews, working both together and separately, cleared 5.5 miles of trail, removed 555 logs, brushed 5 miles, and worked 1,051 hours.

ITA’s Executive Director, Melanie Vining was excited to be collaborating with SBFC on such a great project. “The Selway Bitterroot and Frank Church Wilderness areas are such special and unique places, and both ITA and SBFC spend significant amounts of time working on wilderness trails that partnering on a project seemed like a great idea. Once SBFC Executive Director Sally Ferguson and I got to talking, a partnership focused on young people- the next generation of stewards- seemed like the best choice. We are thrilled it worked out- in no small part because of the awesome leadership of the SBFC and ITA crews!”

Besides learning trail maintenance skills, this trip provided a great opportunity for the ITA youth crew to learn more about backpacking. The group was flown into Shearer Airstrip by Sawtooth Air and then they hiked four miles to basecamp. Some pack support was provided by Selway Lodge on the way in but the crew had to pack everything out on their backs. Kellan Reagan, who first volunteered with ITA in 2021, is beginning to feel more confident in his backcountry skills. “I have learned a lot about backpacking during the Goat Ridge trip specifically, especially about food and cooking, and how it is approached out here. I learned how to pack and carry a good pack, how to deal with waste in the backcountry, and more. I don’t quite feel ready to go on a backpacking trip without someone experienced, but I feel much more confident, and I am one step closer to it.”

Kellan is looking forward to working with ITA again this summer on another weeklong project. “This trip, as well as my one last summer helped me realize how much I like being off grid and having the feeling of being truly alone with nature that being out in the wilderness gives you… The aspect of trail work on top of that allows me to help not just people access nature, but help nature itself, and keep this fantastic wilderness wild. I am super excited for my next trip!”

Melanie is hoping to partner more with SBFC in the future. “Hearing about the mentorship and encouragement the SBFC Wilderness Fellows gave the ITA youth crew, and the enthusiasm this inexperienced group of youth put into some very challenging trail work was incredible. This wilderness connection, a sharing of the love of the land and skills needed to steward our trails, is the key to the future! The wheels have already started turning for a partnership project in 2023!”