MISSION / HISTORY

Eagle Summit Wilderness Alliance (ESWA) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation formed in 1994. Members assist two Ranger Districts (Dillon and Holy Cross, both in the White River National Forest) maintain three Wildernesses (Eagles Nest, Ptarmigan Peak, and Holy Cross), which are located in Summit and Eagle Counties.

 MISSION

ESWA’s mission is to support the Forest Service to preserve the integrity of the Summit and Eagle county wilderness resource for its own sake and to sustain the character of the wilderness experience for its visitors.

 

We achieve our mission by deploying volunteer resources to implement boots-on-the-ground field programs focused on stewardship and education and by enabling the application of private funds to accomplish local wilderness objectives.

 4 FOCUS AREAS

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1. EDUCATION

Our Volunteer Wilderness Rangers engage the public, teaching Wilderness ethics in general and Leave No Trace principles in particular.

 

Our Trailhead Hosts staff tables at popular trailheads to provide information and educational materials to hikers and backcountry campers even before they hit the trail.

We fund and install trailhead bulletin boards, kiosks, and portal signs with Interpretive posters about the area, trails, regulations, and related information. We fund and help install trail and information signs on trails and popular camping areas.  We funded a Wilderness Interpretive Display at the Dillon Ranger District Office in Silverthorne.

2. OUTREACH

We sponsor Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crews for construction and renovation projects, including boardwalks on Middle Willow Creek and the Mesa Cortina trail, bridges over Slate Creek and Squaw Creek, and the Buffalo Mountain Trail. We partner with a number of non-profit organizations on projects of mutual interest. We provided organizational assistance to the Wilderness Stewardship Network, White River Wilderness Coalition, and Friends of Dillon Ranger District

3. ADVOCACY

ESWA supports several campaigns that aim to protect and support the environmental in general and Wilderness in particular. For example, ESWA was an active participant in the White River National Forest Forest Plan revision process (including the Special Areas Work Group, the Travel Management work group, and the Forest Plan Revision forum), helping to develop input to Congress on proposed wilderness additions. 

4. STEWARDSHIP

ESWA sponsors trail and campsite maintenance projects each year, providing the muscle to help the U.S. Forest Service. These projects include both day trips and overnight pack trips to deep backcountry lakes. Our sawyers clear hundreds of deadfall trees from trails each year. Extensive tool caches are shared with other trail groups.

BRIEF HISTORY

After decades of Primitive Area status, Eagles Nest Wilderness (ENW) was signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1976, after an arduous approval process (click HERE to see some of the originals). Holy Cross Wilderness followed in 1980, and Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness in 1993.

Located close to from major metropolitan areas, all three have become increasingly popular with outdoor enthusiasts.

In 1994, after backpacking with two Wilderness Rangers in the Eagles Nest Wilderness, M. John Fayhee a Summit County journalist, wrote an editorial lamenting the appalling lack of resources to maintain and protect Eagles Nest Wilderness. After reading the article, Tom Jones, Jr., co-owner of Wilderness Sports , teamed with Fayhee and organized a public meeting, which gave birth to Friends of Eagles Nest Wilderness (FENW - in 2019 the name was changed to Eagle Summit Wilderness Alliance - ESWA). Currie Craven became Chairman of the Board, Ed Adams President, Fayhee Secretary, and Jones Treasurer. Frank Smith, Jr. and Wilderness Sports were instrumental in the group’s formation. Its initial attention was focused on the east (Summit County) side of ENW. 
 

In 2006, FENW expanded its mandate to include the west side of the ENW (located in Eagle County near Vail), Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness and Holy Cross Wilderness. In 2019, we changed our name to Eagle Summit Wilderness Alliance (ESWA) to better reflect the scope of our work. These areas compose virtually all of the Wilderness in Summit and Eagle Counties, and thus a simple solution - one that resonates with the idea of wilderness - is offered by recognizing our geographical immersion in these two counties - hence Eagle Summit Wilderness Alliance. Read details HERE.

Tight budget restrictions (which persist today) prevented the U.S. Forest Service from providing the level of care required for this increasingly popular Wilderness. Trail maintenance, visitor education, cleaning up unsightly hunters’ camps, and other activities all taxed USFS's resources, and became the focus of FENW's efforts.

In the more-than-two-decades since its founding, we have purchased and installed portal signs, bulletin boards, and interpretive posters on all official trails. We also started a noxious weed treatment program to eradicate invasive weeds in the Wilderness. All of these activities have been performed in close collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service, and with the generous support of a number of organizations.

 

Maryann Gaug has written a detailed Early History of FENW. Click HERE.

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