The VALLECITO LEGEND
Our Community Newspaper, Website & Tour Guide
Forest Service Special Stories
Courtesy Ann Bond, San Juan Public Affairs Specialist
Tom Harris, Copy Editor
Photo courtesy Norris Family
Former Columbine District Ranger Harry Norris heading to work along the Pine River in the 1930's.
A Visit from the Norris Family
By Ann Bond
DURANGO – Bill and Mary Norris and family visited the Columbine Ranger District this summer to help celebrate the San Juan National Forest Centennial. Bill and Mary’s father, Harry Norris began his San Juan career in 1918 as District Ranger at the Bridge Ranger Station in the Upper Piedra. After serving in the Army, Harry returned to marry Mabel Thayer in 1920 and serve as District Ranger at Square Top Ranger Station, where Bill and Mary were born.
In 1926, Harry was transferred to the Pine Ranger District. In winter, he worked out of his home in Bayfield, and in summer, he and his lived at the Vallecito Ranger Station.
In 1939, Harry was transferred to the Engineer Ranger District north of Durango, where he and his family lived in the original Columbine Ranger Station in summer, and he worked out of the Durango office in winter. Harry lived to be 96 years old.
San Juan staff had lunch and swapped stories with the Norris family. Bill and his son, Steve, donated a CD of beautiful photographs taken of San Juan locations by his father.
“We read with much interest, The First 100 Years of the San Juan National Forest," Bill says. “Certainly Mary and I relived our childhood days while reading it. It mentions the Debs community post office on the Piedra, which existed from 1915 to 1925. My grandmother, Cora Thayer, was the postmaster for the Debs post office.”
(From left to right) Members of the Norris family who visited with Columbine
Ranger District staff included Mary (Norris) Wissler (daughter of Harry),
Michael Norris (son of William), William Norris (son of Harry), and Naomi Norris
(wife of William).
Photo by Ann Bond
Clearing the Stock Driveway
Photo courtesy Backcountry Horsemen
(Click on image to enlarge.)
By Don Kelly
BAYFIELD - The Four Corners Backcountry Horsemen began the arduous task of clearing the trail corridor on the Pine-Piedra Stock Driveway and Trail in late August this year. The trail was blocked with downed timber, limbs and debris, and had not been cleared by the USFS trail crews in many years. During two days of field work, they cleared almost four miles of trail to within less than a mile of Slide Mountain. The nonprofit group hopes to eventually connect the trail to connect to the East Creek, Sierra Vandera, and the Pine River Trails to the north.
The project started at the north end of the Beaver Meadows Road, where a non-motorized portion of the driveway runs the ridge between Indian Mountain and Slide Mountain, and offers spectacular views of the Vallecito, Pine and Piedra drainages. Some two dozen volunteers cut and cleared the trail corridor of downed timber, limbed of standing trees along the route, constructed cairns, removed trash and cleared the corridor of debris. Two of the volunteers, members of the San Juan Trail Riders, a motorized trail advocacy and adoption group, assisted in clearing and provided insight in mitigating OHV traffic.
(Don Kelly is the Columbine District Trails Coordinator.)
A Day in the Life of a Wilderness Ranger
Columbine District Wilderness Rangers for 2004 are:
Front Row: Anne Dal Vera, Isaac Murphy, Bill Ketterhagen.
Back row: Tom Winter, Nate Benton, Nevada Hanners.
By Ann Dal Vera
DURANGO - Columbine District Wilderness rangers patrol more than 320,000 acres of the Weminuche Wilderness (from Silverton to Vallecito, and from Highway 550 to the Pine River). We work in pairs on nine-day trips, often spending a few days in a high-use area, like Chicago Basin, then hiking over passes and along streams for several more days. We maintain more than 200 miles of trails, and this year, along with the trail crew, cut 2,800 trees off the trails with crosscut saws and axes. We don’t use chainsaws, as the Wilderness Act prohibits the use of motorized equipment.
We are the eyes and ears of Wilderness managers, monitoring use levels and recreational impacts, and making recommendations to reduce impacts or restore damaged areas. We also work with volunteers on restoration projects and to combat noxious weeds. For example, Wilderness Ranger Nevada Hanners worked with the Hesperus Boy Scout Troop this year to dig up and remove 1,500 thistles from a meadow on the Pine River.
We also enforce Wilderness regulations, such as the group size limit of 15 people, camping and campfires, weed-free hay, and other regulations. We also share Leave No Trace techniques and principles with visitors.
Photo courtesy Connie Inglish
Tim and Connie Inglish of Arizona on a day hike along the Needle Creek Trail the summer before her medical emergency.
Wilderness rangers are trained in first aid, and most of us have either Wilderness First Responder or Wilderness EMT training. Every year, we are able to provide assistance with a rescue, as in the following example:
Dear San Juan National Forest,
On July 13, my husband and I were hiking
the Needle Creek Trail, when I became ill with dehydration, high-altitude
pulmonary edema and cerebral edema, plus a previous heart-valve problem. I was
Center in Durango, where I recovered after a week in Intensive Care.
I have no recollection of these events but understand my rescue was greatly aided by two of your rangers, who were on the way up to Chicago Basin that day. I would like to find out more details of this effort, including the names of my heroes.
Thank you very much,
Connie Inglish, Glendale, Arizona
The two Wilderness rangers who helped you
are Bill Ketterhagen and Tom Winter, seasonal rangers who patrol
the Weminuche and educate the public on wilderness safety and etiquette. With
help from a doctor on the train and other folks, they were able to get you to
where a helicopter arranged for by La Plata Search and Rescue airlifted you to
As their supervisor, I am proud of the professional manner in which they handled this serious situation.
Recreation/Wilderness Forester, Columbine RD
Dear San Juan National Forest,
In all my years of enjoying the outdoors,
both here in my native
Arizona and in my
I had never had any occasion to need any form of rescue. I have worked many
years in critical care areas of nursing, including 17 years as an RN in an
emergency department, and I know how first responders can literally make a
difference between life and death. I never dreamed I would someday be on the
receiving end of such an event!
I will always be so grateful to the fine people who spent an entire day bringing me out of the wilderness and arranging air transport and medical aid to me. Please once again extend my gratitude to everyone involved on that day.
Tim and I will be back in Durango next summer, and I hope to meet in person all those wonderful people who literally saved my life.
(Anne Dal Vera is a wilderness ranger for the Columbine Ranger District.)
Keeping It Clean
Photo by Stephanie Odell
Crews ready mining debris and hazardous waste for removal by helicopter
this fall in an avalanche path in the Weminuche Wilderness.
By Stephanie Odell
DURANGO - An operation to remove hazardous waste from the Needle Creek drainage in the Weminuche Wilderness in late September was completed in one day instead of the expected three days, thanks to good teamwork.
Galvanized metal building parts, mining supplies, and drums filled with transmission fluid, hydraulic oil, and diesel fuels were airlifted by helicopter. The debris remained from mining exploration activities in the 1970s. An avalanche carried the debris down from Columbine Pass last winter to near Needle Creek, where it posed risks to Wilderness visitors and possibly contaminate the creek.
Everything was removed from the basin, except one barrel that was in a particularly inaccessible and dangerous spot amongst fallen trees. Ann Dal Vera and crew consolidated and packed up the materials to be removed, which made the helicopter operation very smoothly.
Wilderness ranger/volunteer Jim Sumrall kept things running smooth on the other end by handling security and safety at the helicopter landing pad on the Lime Creek Road.
Kudos also to EMC-Squared for organizing the project and Phelps-Dodge for funding the operation.
(Stephanie Odell is the San Juan Public Lands Hazardous Materials Coordinator.) ________________________________________________
Copyright 2005 Gary D. Courtney