The Cloud Peak Chapter of Wilderness Watch was organized in 1996 to work for good stewardship of the Cloud Peak Wilderness of the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming, adhering to the philosophy of Wilderness Watch to follow the principles of the Wilderness Act. At that time, there were serious issues with the Bighorn National Forest’s management, which threatened the continuity of wilderness stewardship.
The Cloud Peak Chapter has remained a loyal partner to the Bighorn National Forest, contributing volunteer labor on several field projects, commenting on the Forest Plan revision and other proposals which affect wilderness access, developing and revising the Trails Illustrated map for the CPW, and helping to develop informational brochures and signs to educate the public on wilderness stewardship and regulations for visiting the Cloud Peak Wilderness. In 1999 the Chapter received the Forest Service Chief’s National Volunteer Award, recognizing our efforts.
Since its inception, the Cloud Peak Chapter of Wilderness Watch has been propelled entirely by volunteer members, no paid staff, to conduct a number of monitoring projects in and around the Cloud Peak Wilderness in cooperation with the Bighorn National Forest.
The Cloud Peak Chapter of Wilderness Watch collaborated with the Bighorn National Forest and the National Geographic Society to update the Cloud Peak Wilderness trail map. The new edition updates trails within the wilderness boundary, as well as access roads and trail heads outside of the boundary.
In partnership with the Bighorn National Forest, the chapter plans on hiring interns in 2021 to complete the bare ground assessment. These assessments are completed in about five year increments on over one hundred predetermined locations using a protocol developed at the University of Montana. The assessment provides managers information on the effects of alpine camping, firewood collection, soil erosion, and timber regeneration above 9,200 feet and is used in determining the effectiveness of wilderness regulations.
Additionally the chapter will be seeking volunteers to assist with a rapid assessment inventory. This assessment is based on a national protocol that catalogs all the campsites in the wilderness. Current inventories compared with past inventories provide Cloud Peak Wilderness managers with valuable information to guide management decisions and protect wilderness character.
The Cloud Peak Chapter's Projects
We carry out projects in the Cloud Peak Wilderness as cooperators with the Bighorn National Forest. Members volunteer for outdoor projects, and for other projects that are not as physically challenging. Volunteers with the Chapter get a better appreciation of the need for good stewardship of Wilderness areas and for the preservation of Wilderness values.
Stream Health Survey: In 1998, the Chapter designed a program to gather baseline data on the water quality of streams within the Cloud Peak Wilderness, using techniques accepted by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. The survey included data on water chemistry, macro- and micro-invertebrates, and the physical condition of a short section of each stream. All field equipment had to be backpacked in to these remote sites, which is why they had not been studied before. Data from the 2000-2002 field seasons on 11 streams was published in CD-ROM format, and is available by writing to the Cloud Peak Chapter. In the project’s seven years, 21 of the approximately 30 streams were sampled, adding unique information to studies already available from downstream sites in Wyoming and the Bighorn National Forest. The Cloud Peak Chapter received a Bighorn National Forest Award for this work.
Trails Illustrated Map: In 1996, the Cloud Peak Chapter raised $13,000 to create a topographic map of the entire Cloud Peak Wilderness, in partnership with Trails Illustrated. The Bighorn National Forest brought the need for this map to our attention, noting that wilderness users had to patch together several maps to get the complete picture. The group submitted revisions for the map in 2001, and continues to be the main Wyoming distributor to retail outlets and the USFS, providing a continuing source of funds to support the Chapter’s other projects.
Educational Efforts: Our Chapter created and distributed educational brochures to help educate Wilderness users about the impact of campfires and regulations prohibiting campfires above 9,200 feet within the Wilderness. We continue to update and distribute these brochures in every Trails Illustrated map and in local sports stores. Also, we supplied the graphics and text for informational signs at popular trailheads, and continue to help maintain and update them.
Bare Ground Survey: These ongoing studies provide baseline data to the Bighorn National Forest. Volunteers identify campsites in the Cloud Peak Wilderness and measure the area of bare ground created by human use. Over a period of years, the survey data has helped the Bighorn National Forest determine whether standards are being met in the Wilderness.
Leave No Trace: As a public service, the Cloud Peak Chapter schedules training in the principles of “Leave No Trace”. This program educates visitors in ways to minimize impacts of their stay, to avoid activities that can damage the fragile vegetation of our high-altitude Wilderness.
Photo: Todd Blythe