As a wilderness program manager on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, Chad Grossenburg knows a thing or two about the unique and lasting benefits of wild places to the human spirit and the local landscape. He’s trekked for miles through wilderness areas on several national forests and cleaned up sites to fulfill the wilderness ethic of leaving no trace of one’s visit to the area. He’s worked with many specialists, volunteers and partners to celebrate wilderness activities. The best part of his job however is meeting the people he sees along the way who tell him about their “trip of a lifetime,” an encounter he hopes more visitors will experience during their visits to the forest. His job is to do his best to keep the Jedediah Smith and Winegar Hole Wilderness areas wild, just one aspect of the Forest Service mission to sustain our national forests and grasslands which provide Americans with benefits such as clean air and water, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.
How long have you been in your current position?
I have been in this job for eight years. I worked as a wilderness ranger under a prior wilderness manager for two seasons when I was in graduate school. She helped me develop and complete my thesis on recreation dynamics and campsite locations in the Jedediah Smith Wilderness. I was lucky enough to work in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness on the Custer National Forest for a few seasons and started out as a GS-03 wilderness ranger in the Fitzpatrick Wilderness and Washakie Wilderness on the Shoshone National Forest in 2001.
What do you do as part of your job?
In the summer, I spend a lot of time supervising seasonal wilderness rangers, collecting data, talking to visitors about Leave No Trace practices, picking up trash, naturalizing illegal fire rings, conducting outfitter and guide inspections and maintaining kiosks and signs. During the winter I supervise a couple of snow rangers. I spend a lot of time compiling campsite conditions, encounter and user-created trail data into our Geographic Information System. The data is used to gauge how well the mandates of the Wildereness Act are being met as part of the agency’s Wilderenss Stewardship Performance and to ensure we are meeting the standards of the Caribou-Targhee Forest Plan. I write grants to fund seasonal staff, oversee a small number of outfitter and guide permits, and help recreationists plan their trips.
What is interesting about your job?
The most interesting part of my job is working with specialists, volunteers and partners. I helped a scientist collect lichen samples to monitor air quality. I discovererd more about lake ecology and trout from the fisheries biologist. Some of our alpine lakes hold populations of trout that need re-stocking while others lakes hold self-sustaining populations. Because of the innovative work of bioligists from many agencies we have learned that the Teton Range’s small, native bighorn sheep herd lives at high elevation year-round. The information helps us to limit impacts to the sheep by backcountry skiers. I often work with staff from Grand Teton National Park doing things like joint patrols or removing abandoned climbing bolts in alpine areas of the wilderness. I recently met an archeologist who was visiting the wilderness conducting fascinating research on high-elevation, pre-historic seasonal villages and the creation of soapstone bowls.
Why is your work important?
My job is to ensure we meet forest manaagement goals while upholding the mandates of the Wilderness Act, which requires us to manage wilderness differently than the rest of the national forest. We need to maintain a wilderness experience for the public trying to get away from fast-paced, modern life with outdoor opportunities to hike, ride horses or ski on the quiet side of the Teton Range.
Why do you love your job?
The best part of the job is meeting people who are having incredible experiences on what they often call a “trip of a lifetime” in one of the most beautiful places they have ever seen. They often give me a big pat on the back for how well our trails are maintained and let me know how lucky I am to work in the Caribou-Targhee’s wilderness areas. I love the physical challenges of wilderness travel. I sleep better in the wilderness because I am worn out each night in a very positive way. I love the beauty and remoteness. It is pretty amazing to see the Teton peaks emerge from a veil of clouds or discover a fossil or artifact. When you’re out in the wilderness, you feel like you’re in the flow of things. Your activities make you feel energized and fully involved as your enjoying the great outdoors. Watch a video of Chad outdoors on the job.
What does working for the Forest Service mean to you?
Working for the Forest Service means I get a chance to help people experience wilderness. It means that I get to play a small part in preserving wilderness and the experiences it will provide for future generations. It gives me the chance to witness improvements in these special places. As wilderness use steadily increases, one would expect conditions, like its natural state, to deteriorate but some conditions are actually improving as more wilderness visitors follow Leave No Trace practices. When I first started, I spent a lot of time helping people properly store food to ensure protection from bears. Now, proper food storage is well understood and commonplace. It’s very satisfying to see our education and information programs work. The majority of snowmobilers comply with wilderness regulations and avoid the winter range of big game animals to help protect their habitat. Through a consistent field presence and education, things can improve.
How heavy is your pack, what do you usually put in it?
My daypack is lightwhile, my overnight pack is a bit heavier. Thirty-five pounds is the average. Backpacking gear has gotten very light in the last 10 years or so. My tent only weighs two pounds. I carry a small stove, 12 ounces of fuel, a little titanium pot and mug, a sleeping pad and a well-made, zero-degree, goose-down sleeping bag. The pack is heavy in the beginning of the season when we focus on logging out the trails. We carry a cross-cut saw, wedge, axe, small folding saw, shovel, radio, spot unit, GPS unit, camera, spare batteries, forms, ticket books and many trash bags. The pack may get lighter with time as we eat our food and burn our fuel but occasionally the pack just gets heavier as we find more and more trash, abandoned gear and vandalized signs.