Poudre Wilderness Volunteers (PWV) is a Larimer County, Colorado nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1996 to assist the Canyon Lakes Ranger District of the United States Forest Service in managing and protecting the wilderness and backcountry areas within its jurisdiction. To achieve this mission, PWV recruits, trains, equips, and fields citizen volunteers to serve as wilderness rangers and hosts for the purpose of educating the public, and provides other appropriate support to these wild areas.

PWV has grown substantially and diversified since its founding and is considered to be one of the largest, most effective organizations of its kind in the nation.

The Need
  • Federal appropriations for the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) are not sufficient to cover the costs of forest management and conservation. Furthermore, the USFS doesn’t have enough staff to adequately patrol and monitor the Wilderness and backcountry trails in our area.
  • Backcountry use continues to rise, reflecting population growth and demographic changes along the Front Range and elsewhere in the nation. A recent National Survey on Recreation and the Environment (2000 – 2007) indicates that participation in outdoor recreation activities increased by 25 - 31% and that Americans’ interest in nature and nature-based recreation is changing. While activities such as hiking, backpacking, horse riding, mountain climbing, and snow skiing have recently shown declines in popularity, viewing or photographing birds, wildlife, and flowers and trees have increased by 19 to 26%, and kayaking has increased by 63%. In 2010, the Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests were visited by 6 million people, the second highest number of visits to a National Forest in the nation.
  • Many backcountry users have no idea what a designated Wilderness is or why it must be left “untrammeled" by man. A majority of them know very little about low-impact camping. If there is nobody to inform visitors about appropriate Wilderness use, some of our Wilderness areas could become so heavily impacted that additional restrictions on public use will be imposed.


The Concept
  • Most duties of a USFS ranger can be accomplished by carefully chosen, well-trained citizen volunteers. PWV recruits local citizens who care about and use the region's outdoor resources. Members commit to a minimum of six days of service each year “hiking or riding with a purpose."
  • PWV members have no law enforcement authority but use education and diplomacy to promote compliance with Wilderness and backcountry regulations and Leave No Trace principles
  • PWV members wear uniform shirts with identifying patches and name badges that make them a highly visible non-official U.S. Forest Service presence on the trails. They typically carry two-way radios and/or satellite communicators, and are trained to handle various emergency situations that might be encountered in the backcountry.
  • PWV is an all-volunteer organization with no paid staff.
The Results
PWV has grown from 105 founding members in 1996 to 308 active members in 2016. Poudre Wilderness Volunteers patrol about 286 miles along 69 system trails in 650,000 acres of Wilderness and general National Forest and National Grassland lands. Due in part to PWV’s efforts:
  • When there were insufficient USFS funds or personnel to clear trails in early summer, PWV established a Trail Crew
  • When the U.S. Forest Service was unable to meet its goals for locating, controlling, and eradicating noxious weeds, PWV established a Weed Crew
  • When the USFS added a Kids in the Woods emphasis, PWV established a Kids in Nature Program
  • When wildfires and floods ravaged the Canyon Lakes Ranger District, PWV established a Restoration Program
  • Lost hikers have been found and potential forest fires have been averted by the prompt actions of our
  • PWV members make an effort to talk about leash benefits and regulations with every dog owner they encounter in the Wilderness, addressing a most difficult educational task
  • PWV provides the most informative statistics on trail and Wilderness use that the Canyon Lakes Ranger District has

Since 2005, PWV has donated a total of 256,024 volunteer hours, worth $5,427,368 to the USFS.

In 2016 PWV:
  1. Conducted a total of 1,105 trail patrols (7,838 on-trail hours) and had meaningful contacts with 12,072 of the 17,222 backcountry trail users seen (= 70.1%)
  2. Reported 207 illegal fire rings (203 removed) and 77 inappropriate fire rings (40 downsized/cleaned out)
  3. Reported 1,115 violations and contacted 295 violators using the Authority of the Resource Technique and explaining Leave No Trace or other reasons for the regulations
  4. PWV members removed 1,180 fallen trees along more than 150 miles of trail
  5. The PWV Weed Crew pulled noxious weeds on 116 acres of National Forest lands
  6. The PWV Restoration Program organized and implemented 8 public trail restoration workdays (1,637 hrs), 33 PWV trail and other restoration workdays (517 hrs), and paid the Larimer County Youth Conservation Corps to do an additional 16 days of trail restoration on PWV projects (920 hrs)
  7. The PWV Kids in Nature program held 9 hikes for 81 different kids
  8. Additionally, other PWV programs (e.g., Adopt-a-Trail and Adopt-a-Highway) contributed environmental stewardship and public outreach via various activities
  9. PWV contributed a total of 27,926 volunteer hours worth $657,929 to the USFS

Given that PWV expenditures in 2016 totaled $32,470 - every dollar spent by PWV provided $20.26 of value to the USFS.

The Future

As population growth along the Front Range results in more and more backcountry use by the public, PWV needs to keep pace by recruiting and training new volunteers each year to assure adequate coverage of the District’s many popular trails throughout the summer. We continue to seek public and corporate support to meet our modest operating costs and to provide volunteers with appropriate training, essential equipment and emergency gear, and uniforms to make members easily identified while on patrol, even in rainy or cold weather.

A Successful and Different Organization

PWV and its members have gained regional (1997, 2009, 2012, & 2013 Larimer County Environmental Stewardship Award; 2008 Colorado Weed Management Association Outstanding Volunteer Efforts Award, 2011 United Way of Larimer County Senior Volunteer Excellence Award) and national (2010 Take Pride in America Award for Non-profit Organizations, 2010 University of Phoenix National Points of Light Volunteer Leader Award, and 2013 USFS Volunteer Group Award) recognition for their contributions.

PWV has no political or hidden agendas. Our single purpose is to protect the region's Wilderness and backcountry areas through on-trail service and public education. We are not an environmental advocacy group. PWV has a rigorous and comprehensive training program for its recruits and veteran members. No other organization providing volunteer rangers for the U.S. Forest Service has as many members, provides as many hours on the trail, or does so much without any paid staff.

[PWV federal tax ID and Colorado State Tax Exempt # available on request]

JBS: rev. 19 JAN 2017

Click on the following link to get a two-page printer friendly PDF copy of this article: pdfPWV 2016 Fact Sheet

Upcoming Events

Mon Mar 05 @12:00AM
PWV Application Closes
Mon Mar 12 @ 6:00PM -
Affiliation Gathering
Thu Mar 15 @ 6:30PM - 08:30PM
PWV Board Meeting