Kearns and Sons RS Aesthetics

Volunteer groups collaborate on Montana wilderness work


Sierra Club volunteer group at the Lolo Peak trailhead before heading out for a week of wilderness trail work on the Bitterroot National Forest.

Bright and early Sunday morning of August 12, Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation (SBFC) Lead Wilderness Steward Rachel Kaufman met with an all-women group of Sierra Club volunteers from across the country at the Lolo Peak Trailhead. The women were doing last minute preparations and safety talks before spending the next week clearing the One Horse Lakes trail south of Lolo Peak in the Bitterroot National Forest. The women that were gathered at the trailhead represented a spectrum of ages, professions and strengths. They also represented several different geographical regions of the United States. However, despite their differences, it was clear in their determined faces that they were coming together to accomplish a common goal. Volunteers from the Selway-Pintler Backcountry Horsemen were hefting loads of kitchen gear and food on pack mules. Mack and Connie Long from Bob Marshall Wilderness Outfitters volunteered to pack out the group gear on August 18.

The SBFC relies on volunteer collaboration to accomplish the majority of their service projects. The SBFC focuses on connecting the community to the Selway-Bitterroot and Frank Church River of No Return Wildernesses through stewardship projects. The One Horse Lakes clearing project was unique because it was also a service project with the Sierra Club. While most of the SBFC’s projects engage local community volunteers, they also try to engage volunteers from across the country in order to introduce them to Montana wilderness areas and the local environmental issues. The more people that experience and spend time in these wilderness areas, the more likely they will be to protect them in the future. The project was also unique in that it was composed of all women volunteers. Elaine Stebler, the Sierra Club trip leader from Ripley, Oklahoma, said that all-women trips are an excellent and important way for women to discover their physical and mental strengths in a supportive and encouraging environment. She added that many women will participate in these trips, realize that they are strong and capable, and then go on to participate in co-ed trips with confidence and ease.

Rachel Kaufman, the project leader for the trip, has led all-women trips for the SBFC in the past and knows that it is important to have plenty of challenging work to do. All women crews work hard and long hours. They also work smarter.

“I make sure to encourage them to use levers and gravity to their advantage to move large fallen trees and rocks off of the trail,” says Kaufman.

Most of these women have done service projects and trail work in the past and Rachel finds that she learns more from volunteers then she teaches on projects like this.

Over the course of the week the women used a variety of hand tools including cross cut saws, hand saws, loppers and pulaskies to clear over 470 downed trees, remove rock and brush from over 3.5 miles of trail and to build about 50 feet of new trail.

Kaufman observed, “It’s amazing how powerful 12 sets of hands, bodies, feet and legs can be. One person may push and heave with all of their might to move a downed tree, but you combine the strength of 12 women and the tree rolls off the trail and crashes down the hillside as if it were a toothpick!”

The SBFC orchestrates volunteer stewardship projects all summer long. For more information on the SBFC Foundation, to donate or to sign up for a volunteer trip, visit the webpage at or contact Rachel Kaufman at

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