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Volunteers repair fire-damaged Mount Charleston trail

Despite a sign that read “closed for the season,” a group of nearly 15 people crossed over an orange fence Saturday morning and began hiking up the South Loop Trail at Mount Charleston.

This group wasn’t trespassing. Instead, volunteers and staff members from the Friends of Nevada Wilderness and the Great Basin Institute were working to repair the trail, which has been closed since July 2013 when the Carpenter 1 Fire raged through 43 square miles of the Spring Mountains, located nearly 50 miles west of Las Vegas.

While they worked Saturday, scorched trees and brush scattered through the area were constant reminders of the damage wrought by the fire.

Grace Larsen, stewardship coordinator at Friends of Nevada Wilderness, said the organization, which is dedicated to protecting and preserving wilderness, partnered with the Great Basin Institute, an interdisciplinary field studies group that promotes environmental research, education and conservation.

She said the group was working on installing and repairing waterbars, drainage structures that direct water off the lower edge of the trail, and stabilizing switchbacks, a zig-zag pattern on a trail that protects it from erosion.

“Water causes erosion on trails and we want to help maintain them and prevent problems in the long run,” she said. “It’s a long process, but we want it to be safe.”

Volunteers used shovels, rakes and pickaxes to improve the trails in hopes of reopening the South Loop Trail later this year.

It’s work that Larsen and the others donating their time and effort find gratifying.

“You can tell how important the trails are because the parking lots are always full on the weekends,” she said. “Trail work is fun because you get to learn skills and take care of a place you enjoy.”

Friends of Nevada Wilderness volunteer Ron LaPointe said if he’s not hiking on the weekends, he’s repairing trails throughout Southern Nevada.

“I use them so why not fix them,” he said. “It’s also great to see what you did with your hands and while it can sometimes be really hard digging through rocks, you’ve got to get the job done.”

LaPointe, who said he often finds himself removing boulders and clearing branches out of the way on the trails while he’s hiking, began volunteering three years ago after the Carpenter 1 fire.

“I knew work had to be done,” he said. “I’d like to get it open and get people back on the trail.”

Las Vegas resident Kathy Faber was volunteering with the organization for the first time Saturday.

The retired Clark County School District biology teacher said she was looking for a way to get involved.

“It’s an excuse to get to the mountains, and it’s nice to get out of Vegas and see nature,” she said. “It’s a lot of work but it’s fun too, and I’m sure I’ll feel great afterwards.”

While the group worked until the early afternoon, the job was nowhere near complete.

Larsen said Friends of Nevada Wilderness will be out again repairing the South Loop, North Loop and Bonanza Peak trailheads at the end of July and September.

“The volunteers are crucial,” she said. “We have such hard-working and skilled volunteers.”

Additional volunteers, Larsen added, are welcome.

“We’re always looking for more,” she said. “We wouldn’t get anything done without them.”

To volunteer, visit the Friends of Nevada Wilderness website at www.nevadawilderness.org.

Contact reporter Ann Friedman at afriedman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4588. Follow @AnnFriedmanRJ on Twitter.

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