ST. GEORGE — With only five people making up the administrative team overseeing the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, they rely on a small army of volunteers to help monitor the condition of the trails that crisscross the reserve.
These trail stewards serve as the reserve’s “boots on the ground,” reserve outreach coordinator Lura Snow said.
The stewards hike the various trails throughout the reserve, either choosing to go on a regular route or systematically moving from one trail to another, Snow said.
Along the way, the volunteers will report on trail conditions as well as anything that seems out of place, such as incidents of vandalism or particular issues reserve administrators have asked them to watch out for. They also help organize and engage in trail cleanup and maintenance projects and answer the questions of visiting hikers.
The Red Cliffs Desert Reserve is governed by the Washington County Habitat Conservation Plan, serving as protected habitat for the Mojave Desert tortoise across 62,000 acres of Washington County.
There have been concerns in the reserve, particularly in Snow Canyon State Park, of visitors hiking off-trail and causing damage to the habitat, like stepping on or collapsing tortoise burrows. There are also safety concerns associated with going off the designated trails, such as getting lost or running into less-than-friendly wildlife.
The trail stewards assist in maintaining the safety of visitors in the reserve, informing hikers not to go off the trails and reporting any incidents to the proper authorities.
The trail steward program currently consists of over 30 volunteers who are “a totally diverse swath of our community,” ranging from their 30s to 70s, Snow said.
“They are a great asset to the Red Cliffs Desert Reverse,” she said.
The program started around 11 years ago, with a few of the original volunteers still around. Occasionally, desert reserve officials will open up the program to new volunteers, but there apparently isn’t much turnaround in that regard, Snow said.
The desert reserve recently filled a call for additional volunteers, so it isn’t looking for trail stewards at this time. However, officials will post online when positions are available. Applications can be found on the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve website.
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