History of the SGWA

Continued from a brief history of the San Gorgonio Wilderness:

Watch an excellent video about the efforts of the Defenders of the Wilderness, produced in 2014 to celebrate 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.

Out of the Defenders of the Wilderness arose the San Gorgonio Volunteer Association (SGVA). In 2000, to better enable the general public to immediately know what and where the SGVA served and protected, the organization’s name was changed to San Gorgonio Wilderness Association (SGWA). Presently, the group is at 200 members and grows slightly at the start of each new season. The San Gorgonio Wilderness Association works in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service in caring for the San Gorgonio Wilderness and neighboring areas on the San Bernardino National Forest. These areas include the Big Bear Lake recreation area, a popular weekend destination for throngs of city dwellers.barton1

Because of declining funds in the late 1970’s, the Forest Service closed the Barton Flats Visitor Center. In 1986, the Defenders reopened the Visitor Center, and a year later the SGWA took over the responsibility of caring for the Center and its visitors — which continues to this day. The Center is totally staffed by volunteers from May through October and serves up to 10,000 visitors each summer.  The Visitor Center is the center of activities for the campgrounds in the area. Informal programs are presented with display animals from the San Bernardino County Museum.

The Barton Flats area is home to over 20 organizational camps that attract up to 30,000 campers every year. SGWA members develop and present interpretive programs for over a thousand children each year. Nature walks and interpretive programs are also presented to campers from the four area family campgrounds on summer weekends. One of the most popular programs for the last three years has been an informal astronomy presentation, giving campers a chance to peek at the heavens without the city pollution.

In the San Gorgonio Wilderness, the SGWA single-handedly provides the bulk of trail patrol and maintenance. Often, the only contact the visitor has with a ‘ranger’ is with an SGWA volunteer. Because of the cooperative association the SGWA has with the Forest Service, all volunteers wear the official U.S. Forest Service uniform and are dispatched on assignments in which they utilize Forest Service hand-held radios. They have proven themselves an invaluable asset to the Forest Service as well as to the public. The official duty of those on trail patrol is to check Wilderness Permits, enforce all regulations from an educational standpoint, conduct trail maintenance, and answer the visitor’s questions. However, they have often been instrumental in finding lost hikers, aiding the injured, and reporting fires and other hazards.
Mill Creek desk
SGWA volunteers also serve at the Mill Creek Ranger Station, which is the hub of activity for the San Gorgonio Ranger District. The majority of visitors to the Wilderness stop at the Mill Creek Ranger Station to get their required permit — it is here they are greeted by SGWA volunteers.

Another essential part of the volunteer effort is the equestrian group. These Packhorsetireless workers spend many long hours on the trail, after which they tend to their horses before taking a well deserved rest. They have provided services such as packing in survey teams and they patrol and maintain trails both in and out of the Wilderness.

One of the favorite activities is the annual Forest Festival held in mid-August. Smokey Bear provides a warm welcome to up to 1000 visitors. This is a day for the public to get a taste of the Forest. Volunteers provide camping and fishing tips, puppet shows, and crafts. One of the most popular activities involves helping youngsters use a crosscut saw to create a ‘tree cookie’ that is then branded with both a Forest Service and Smokey logo.

Probably the most rewarding day of the year for the volunteers is the annual Fishing Derby at nearby Jenks Lake. On this special day, inner city children are brought by the bus load for a day of fishing, educational programs and activities, and just plain fun. Many of these children have never been outside the city, and volunteers working in conjunction with the Forest Service and the California Fish and Wildlife department insure that these special children have a day they will not soon forget.

Surely, the San Gorgonio Wilderness could not have retained its primitive nature without the indefatigable efforts of the Defenders of the Wilderness, and now the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association. The SGWA’s efforts can only continue through the support of its many generous volunteers, and through the generous donations of individuals and companies. Membership in the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association is $20 and up annually. The new member will receive the SGWA newsletter and discounts on all merchandise sold by the SGWA.

Authored by Michael Gordon and Karen Saffle, with the invaluable help of John Robinson’s ‘San Gorgonio – A Wilderness Preserved‘. Read this book for the complete history of the San Gorgonio Wilderness.