Unique partnership brings Montana trail crew to work Gila Wilderness trails
By Moosetrack Megan

Posted: November 14, 2022

SILVER CITY, New Mexico, November 3, 2022 – For several weeks in October, Wilderness trail crews from three national forests in Montana have been at work in the Gila Wilderness, opening up access to the Crest Trail on the Glenwood and Wilderness Ranger Districts. The trail has been choked with deadfall since the 2012 Whitewater Baldy Fire. Two separate crews rotated through the project, each staying for about two weeks.

Josh Kinsel is the Crew Leader, based out of Bozeman Montana on the Custer Gallatin National Forest, and a former Gila trail crew employee. Kinsel credits Will Shoutis, Pintler Ranger District Crew Leader, with pioneering the program that allows the Bozeman and Pintler Ranger District trail crews to travel to other forests during spring and fall shoulder seasons when conditions in Big Sky Country are too frigid for effective trail work. They bring special skills, and man- and womanpower to projects on more southerly national forests where they can help accomplish difficult tasks. Sort of like a Hotshot Crew for trails. “The name ‘Trailshots’ has been kicked around,” admitted Kinsel.

The Gila National Forest has been challenged to log out the Crest Trail (#182) since the 2012 Whitewater Baldy Fire scorched the area. Multiple crews have refused the job in the past because of safety concerns, due to the many fire-killed hazard trees along the trail. The crews, assembled from the Custer Gallatin, Beaverhead-Deerlodge, and Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forests, were up to the task and excited to work in the iconic Gila Wilderness. Kinsel was quick to point out that the Gila trail crew also contributed to the project, clearing the first several miles of trail from Sandy Point to Hummingbird Saddle, opening up access to his team’s campsite before their arrival.

“I fell in love with the Gila Wilderness during a backpacking trip in the Black Range years ago,” said Kinsel. “The opportunity to come back to work in the world’s first wilderness area was irresistible. My connection to the Gila grew deeper when I worked there in 2020 – it’s really rewarding to be able to come back and continue to be a part of caring for it.”

“During the first two weeks, we were camped just below Whitewater Baldy Peak, so we took the opportunity to hike to the top,” said Erica Baker, Seasonal Field Crew Leader for the Bozeman crew, as she recalled a favorite experience. “It was spectacular, being on top of the highest peak in the area, surrounded by the vast Gila Wilderness.”