Friends of the Bridger-Teton is the nonprofit partner that supports the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Though there are many nonprofits in Jackson that work with the national forest, including Friends of Pathways and PAWS, Friends of BT is the first solely focused on the national forest.

“Prior to 2019, there had been talk of creating a nonprofit partner that is fully for the Bridger-Teton forest to bridge some of the gaps in needs that aren’t being met by other partners.  The hope (of establishing) a designated nonprofit partner is to better support all the existing nonprofit partners that are out there,” said Sarah Walker, former Executive Director of Friends of the Bridger-Teton. 

2nd largest US National Forest

The Bridger-Teton US National Forest is the 2nd largest US National Forest, stretching from Kemmerer in the south to Yellowstone NP in the north, including the Tetons, the Snake River Range, the Wyoming Range, the Absaroka Range, the Salt River Range, the Wind River Range, and the Gros Ventre Range.

While most national parks have nonprofit partners (like the Grand Teton National Park Foundation), before Friends of the Bridger-Teton, there hadn’t been any equivalent for national forests. Though both national forests and national parks struggle with inadequate funding, the national forest can have very different challenges than national parks. Under the Department of Agriculture, the national forest is prioritized in a different way than the national parks under the Department of the Interior.

“I think one thing that really stands out for the national forest is multiple uses,” Sarah said. “That’s part of the forest service’s funding challenges too because national parks have one user group, but in the national forest, you’re managing for timber, fire, horseback, hiking, hunting and fishing, e-bikes, dirt bikes, and ATVs, Nordic skiing and downhill skiing, so there are a lot of management challenges of trying to involve those different user groups. It’s a big mission to support multiple uses on public lands. It requires management and staff that the forest service doesn’t have.”

Friends of the Bridger-Teton have only been around for the last 2 years, but their initial priority was getting boots on the ground in places that aren’t covered by forest service staff or other nonprofit partners, utilizing volunteer ambassadors for trail and campsite maintenance projects in high use areas. Their other main focus is in education and outreach to help people recognize when they are on national forest and how to be responsible on the national forest too. 

“It is amazing how few people know that they’re on the national forest–nobody knows that Snow King and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort are on the BT,” Sarah said. “People aren’t going to protect it if they don’t know what it is and love it and appreciate it, so visibility is important. That’s where JH Nordic is already a great, extraordinary asset in pointing out which trails are on the BT and raising awareness. I think it’s just those little things that go a really long way.”

Sarah and company out on a ski on the National Forest

National forest as local, community-focused public lands

In their work, Friends of the Bridger-Teton tries to emphasize the presence and needs of the local community. 

“From my perspective what makes the BT appealing is it’s free, it’s accessible, it’s in our backyard. I think for people who live in Wyoming, the national forest really defines your quality of life,” Sarah said. “It’s the people that live here that are more involved in the forest, so that’s kind of the approach we’ve taken in identifying projects through the local community to see what they want.”

This past summer, Friends of the Bridger-Teton was focused on the dispersed campsites on the national forest as high traffic to the national parks led to a lot of spillover into the forests. Without any significant funding or donation or support coming from that increased visitation, concerns about resources and human waste management have become more prevalent. Along with other nonprofit partners, they have also been working with Linda Merigliano at the Bridger-Teton Forest Service on a wildlife-recreation coexistence project.

Volunteers working on the Middle Ridge Trail with the Star Valley Ranch Trail Crew

Wyoming National Recreation Trail Project

Sarah also hopes to work on improving the state of the Wyoming Recreation Trail, which is a 75-mile long national recreation trail designated congressionally that runs from Willow Creek in the Wyoming Range all the way down to Snider Basin.

Friends of the BT volunteers working on the Continental Divide Trail

“The trail is gorgeous and stunning, and it’s a cool thru-hike with tons of little trailheads you can make little loops out of, but at many of those trailheads, there’s nothing that says you’re on the Wyoming Range National Recreation Trail,” Sarah said. “I think that as Jackson’s getting more crowded, the Wyoming Range is going to be really valuable for people looking for less crowded experiences.”

Additionally, the local communities on the national forest along the trail utilize those trails to get into the Wyoming Range, but the current state of the trail–with downed trees and logs–has made it inaccessible. 

“For those more rural communities, they also see that as a potential tourist attraction that can put them on the map, while getting more folks out of the park and exploring some lesser-known areas, so that’s something I’m pretty excited about,” Sarah said. 

With a bigger picture lens, Sarah sees a need for strong messaging around responsible recreation on the forest, as well as utilizing education and outreach to get more support for the forest. 

One of the more popular permitters on the national forest is Turpin Meadow Ranch. They are unique in their support for and effort towards getting the word out about the Bridger-Teton National Forest with the idea that they rely on the forest for what they offer to the public. Turpin actually gave 1% of their proceeds in September to Friends of the BT, which is a model that has inspired Sarah to hopefully get other permitters more involved too.

#ResponsibleRecreation

This winter, as Jackson is likely to see high numbers of visitors similar to the summer. Messaging around responsible recreation will be essential in order to mitigate visitor impacts and avoid straining resources. Sarah hopes to work with many other nonprofit partners in order to accomplish that this winter with Friends of the Bridger-Teton. 

Popular Winter Trails in Bridger-Teton for Cross-country skiing , fat biking and Snowshoeing

“In every project that Friends of the BT is pursuing, we’re trying to improve the visitor experience on public lands while also mitigating the impact from that visitor use,” Sarah said. “That’s something we’ve been thinking a lot about in our mission, trying to do both of those things at once.”

In the future, Sarah hopes that Friends of the Bridger-Teton can continue to strengthen the network of nonprofits that work with the national forest, including the Nordic Alliance, as well as engage with organizations involved with the Latinx community in Jackson to make resources more accessible to Spanish-speaking members of the Jackson Hole outdoors community. 

Baby pronghorn near Shadow Mountain

Breaking News: Friends of Bridger-Teton has hired its new Executive Director, Scott Kosiba. Scott is based in Pinedale, WY, and will be spending time in each of the Bridger-Teton office locations. You can learn more about Friends of the Bridger-Teton or find out ways to support them on their website.  

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