Heavy visitation to public land in the Eastern Sierra occurs during all four seasons and continues to increase significantly, year over year. Particularly, the Carson District of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest (HTNF) experiences exceptionally high levels of visitors from Reno, Carson City, the Tahoe Area, and across California and Nevada. Sustained, high levels of visitation result in unmitigated and detrimental impacts on recreational and natural resources across the area and within the watersheds of importance to the Truckee Meadows Water Authority (TMWA).
In the summer of 2022, the National Forest Foundation (NFF) partnered with the HTNF, TMWA, and REI to launch the first Forest Ambassador Program on the Carson District. The Forest Ambassador Program's pilot run was intended to engage and educate National Forest visitors about local watershed health, wildfire risk and safety, and #RecreateResponsibly values while visiting the HTNF Carson District.
The program's geographic scope is based on high-use recreation areas within the Truckee River and Steamboat Creek Watersheds, which provide public drinking water supply to the City of Reno. Key areas of concern selected were the popular Whites Creek, Thomas Creek, and Galena Creek trails, as well as the Tahoe Meadows in the Mt. Rose area.
This year's Forest Ambassador, Megan Andrews, completed Certified Interpretive Guide training and rigorous Leave No Trace training to prepare for the role. Day to day, Andrews walked the trails interacting with hikers, bikers, and other user groups while representing the HTNF in ranger uniform. At times, Andrews would host a tabling event at a trailhead or the Galena Creek Visitor Center, offering educational handouts about the area and utilizing the opportunity to share responsible recreation principles.
Over time, it became apparent that visitors were great about staying on trail, avoiding the creation of erosion-prone "social trails." Yet, dog waste, unbagged or bags left on site, was an alarming issue. So, to address this issue impacting trail and water quality, the Forest Ambassador took education beyond the trail and partnered with REI, the Nevada Humane Society, and The Discovery, a hands-on science exploration museum in Reno, to host tabling events spreading the word to pick up what your dog puts down.
After a successful pilot run, the Forest Ambassador Program has been funded for another year into the 2023 field season! NFF will continue to seek new partnership opportunities to expand the program across the Sierra Nevada Region, enrich relationships in the surrounding communities, and perhaps multiply the number of Ambassadors out on the National Forest trails.