Mt Baker Mountain Steward Program Recap

By: John and Hazel Wong

Metro Vancouverites are among the luckiest citizens in the world in terms of access to natural beauty on the Northshore mountains and the sea-to-sky corridor including the world famous Whistler Resort. More than that, most people would recognize the iconic Mt Baker Mountain just south of the 49th parallel in the Washington State, about 1.5 hours drive from Vancouver. It is the highest mountain at 10,778 feet that one can see from the lower mainland. Many, many people from Seattle to Vancouver visit the mountain yearly to go skiing to hiking and camping in the warmer months. The average snowfall at Mt Baker is 75 feet and between 3000 – 4000 people try to summit the peak each year. In 2011, the 180th Pacific Coast Scout Group and Hong Kong scouts completed the summit expedition after a multi-day mountaineering training on the mountain.

Since 2002, Mt Baker has had a Mountain Steward Program in place. It provides an opportunity to involve the community in understanding and protecting the health of the Mountain ecosystem. The program is a partnership between the North Cascades Institute and the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, which is a mixed-used wilderness area and recreation area. Mountain Stewards are stationed on four of the busiest trail systems in the Mt. Baker Ranger District: Heliotrope Ridge, Park Butte/Railroad Grade, Skyline Divide, and Heather Meadows.

To be a Mountain steward, volunteers have to go through three days of training on the geography, geology, trail systems, low-impact recreation skills, safety, wilderness ethics, natural and cultural history of the area, animals and plants found in the National Forest. This takes place prior to the busy summer period. Then afterwards, each member must volunteer for a minimum of three days on weekends from July to September. Our job is not to enforce any rules but to observe, interact, and be a good ambassador for the mountain.

Last year at the first training session at Sedro-Woolley, there was the Project Lead, Barb Richey and Project Coordinator, Carmella Bauman as well as about 40 volunteers including three from the 180th Pacific Coast Scout Group, Jeremy Tam, Hazel Wong, and John Wong. Many of the volunteers were in fact veterans of the program from previous years. The second training was at the Glacier Public Service Center. Our final training was at the Heather Meadows. At each of these training places, we had amazing speakers talk about the various aspects of the National Forest.

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180th’Pacific Caost Scout Group Scouters Hazel & Jeremy having lunch & learning from Jon Riedel, PhD Geologist, with Mt Baker in the background

For those who don’t know, Sedro-Woolley is near the southern entrance to the National Recreation Area (NRA) as well as the southern entrance to the Mt Baker Summit. Glacier Public Service Building is at the northern entrance to the Mt Baker Wilderness area including the most popular Heliotrope Ridge Trail to the summit of Mt Baker. Heather Meadows is where the Artist Point is: the highest point where tourists can drive up and has a spectacular 360 degree view of the area including the peaks of Mt Baker and Mt Shuksan. It is the busiest area in the National Forest.

All our volunteering was done in conjunction with an anchor who showed Hazel and I on-the-trail training. We learned how to operate our emergency and reporting radio system with the monitoring offices. We interacted directly with the tourists, hikers, and climbers along many trails. We gathered information on traffic on the trail, comments/questions/topics of discussion with the travelers, trail conditions, and problems encountered. This is documented at the end of the day using a standard Mountain Stewards Activity Report. Last year, Hazel and I volunteered at the NRA, Heliotrope Ridge, and Heather Meadows. We thoroughly enjoyed all the outings including the public engagement, the education, and last but not least the tremendous beauty of the Mt Baker area. Jeremy told me he had similar experiences on his outings.

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180th Pacific Coast Scout Group Scouters John & Hazel Wong with other mountain stewards in front of Picture Lake below Heather Meadows, with Mt Shuksan in the background

In September, we had an end-of-the-season debrief and celebration in Bellingham. It was fun to hear each others’ stories. We also got an Annual Northwest Forest Pass (valid for one year for Washington and Oregon States).

Throughout the training, volunteering, and social event, we have made many new friends who share the same love of nature. Camaraderie alone would make us want to join the program again next season.

John & Hazel Wong


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