Packing supplies up the fire line, Jeff Outhier pauses to survey the Junkins Fire in October 2016.
When he was a Forest Service district ranger in Rapid City, S.D, my dad kept a photo on the office wall of himself in his previous post on the Rio Grande National Forest in southwestern Colorado. It showed him riding his saddle mare Queenie over a grassy ridge, followed by a loaded pack mule (named Mule), going out on patrol.
I missed all this because I was not yet born or just a baby. Rapid City, by contrast, was not a "horseback district" in any sense of the word, but a pickup truck district.
That photo summarized the Forest Service that he signed up for, and when he was forced up the ladder into a big office, he took a lateral transfer just to get to somewhere smaller and then started counting the days until retirement.
It seems today like more USFS employees touch keyboards more than ax handles or horse bridles. But there are some exceptions. One of them lives just over the hill, Jeff Outhier, whose horse tack-littered office is in Westcliffe — but he himself usually is not.
|Jeff Outhier talks to|
a volunteer trail crew.
He has his methods, like trimming back encroaching trees from muleback. In the wilderness areas where motors (even battery powered) are forbidden, he has been known to build and repair trails with mule-drawn scrapers and plows.
He still knows how to sharpen a big crosscut saw, although he is also a fan of Silky saws like this one. Apparently there is a network of foresters who keep up the traditional woodsman skills.
When we talked last Saturday, he was happy that his seasonal worker was about to come on duty. That's one (1) seasonal. Sometimes he can get some firefighters who are not otherwise occupied. For a lot of work, he depends on volunteers, which is why I was there.
So there is some of that old-time Forest Service left.
One of the volunteers asked about dealing with a fallen tree inside the wilderness that might be too big for our handsaws. Should we "waymark" it and report its coordinates.
"No," says Jeff, "I don't use GPS. Just say it's 'beyond the rockslide after the creek crossing' — I'll find it."