National Forest Foundation

Community Service and Camaraderie on the Inyo National Forest

NFF Grant Partners and Projects


Thomas Zentmyer, 15, is a sophomore at Bishop High School in Bishop, California. The Ansel Adams Wilderness Project was funded by a generous grant from the National Forest Foundation and supported by the Inyo National Forest. This article originally appeared in the Inyo Register.

All I really needed were a few community service hours for school next year, which I just happened to put off until the last minute. However, like any fifteen-year-old nowadays, I despise heavy labor. Signing up for five days of backcountry trail stewardship in the Ansel Adams Wilderness would not have been my first choice, and I called myself crazy when I did so. 

Yet this week with Friends of the Inyo, the Inyo National Forest, and funding from the National Forest Foundation turned out to be one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had.

Photo by Ken Miller

Every job we did was different in its own way. The fallen logs we tackled with a crosscut saw could range from barren sticks taking no more than ten minutes to saw through to dead behemoths surrounded by a thick net of sticks and branches. Campsite rehab entailed disguising a campsite that was too close to water and turning it into one of the most uncomfortable places on earth. 

Campfire ring destruction gave you an opportunity to chuck rocks into the river (an activity anybody can enjoy), and cleaning waterbars meant digging funnels so that any water would flow harmlessly off to the side instead of eroding the trail.

Photo by Ken Miller

My fellow workers were an outstanding and encouraging group of six volunteers and two Friends of the Inyo staff. These people showed me what true mountain folk are like, whether they are geologists, nurses, journalists, or firefighters in the frontcountry. From them I got great stories, new friends, and even some writing tips. 

No matter how demanding the work, this talented crew would keep me going until the workday was done.

I’m a frequent visitor to the backcountry, but this trip had scenery like I had never seen before. I would come back from a hard day of work and settle down for dinner, surrounded by the sound of gushing water, golden light from the setting sun, the gentle whisper of the trees, and the impressive mountains of the Ritter Range above Shadow Creek. 

Photo by Ken Miller

Even in the midst of arduous labor, the place felt beautifully alive, with the soft swaying of the ferns, the occasional animal or birdsong, or the sunlight sifting through the trees and casting itself on the dust stirred up by our boots. The place had this immense power to drag me out of what I was doing and cause me to stare around in wonder.

More people my age, and more people in general, need to work together to help keep the Sierra as natural as possible, while also keeping it accessible for future generations. Our trails need care and love, and federal agencies aren’t the only ones responsible. 

The Ansel Adams Wilderness Project offered me a wonderful opportunity to give back to the backcountry. I will use that opportunity again in the future, whether I need community service hours or not.

See more photos from the trip and learn more about the Friends of the Inyo here.

Photo by Ken Miller

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