Right after finishing a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon in September, Cindy Ebbert got some good news.
Ebbert, an employee with the Dillon Ranger District of the White River National Forest, found out she was being recognized nationally for her wilderness expertise and her contributions to maintaining local wilderness.
The U.S. Forest Service awarded Ebbert the Traditional Skills and Minimum Tools Leadership Award, which recognizes someone who “demonstrates outstanding commitment to wilderness principles using traditional, nonmotorized equipment and hand tools” within the department, according to a news release.
“There’s a lot of amazing folks with the Forest Service who helped manage our wilderness areas, so I felt very fortunate to receive this award as a wilderness manager myself,” Ebbert said.
She doesn’t take full credit for her efforts, though, recognizing the help she gets from nonprofits and volunteers she leads in maintaining the local wilderness.
“I feel like I’m actually accepting it on behalf of all of my coworkers and volunteer groups that I work with,” Ebbert said. “It’s not just one person, myself, that’s receiving this award, but I feel like the village that it takes to kind of manage wilderness areas and help protect them.”
In her current position as trails, wilderness and off-highway vehicle manager, Ebbert manages the Eagles Nest and Ptarmigan Peak wilderness areas in collaboration with other departments as well as local nonprofits like Eagle Summit Wilderness Alliance and Friends of the Dillon Ranger District.
With these groups and local governments, Ebbert leads traditional skills training programs and organizes volunteer trail maintenance projects.
One of Ebbert’s responsibilities with these projects is upholding standards set by the Wilderness Act of 1964, which is dedicated to the preservation of wilderness while still allowing human visitors. The act intends to allow people the right to enjoy the wilderness as long as they leave it as they found it.
Sam Massman, mountain sports administrator for the Dillon Ranger District, has worked with Ebbert for more than 20 years, having previously managed the Eagles Nest Wilderness together. Put simply, he said his and Ebbert’s responsibility is to leave the wilderness’s natural character “as unaffected by our management as possible.”
The Wilderness Act also requires the use of traditional tools when maintenance is needed — the exact effort for which Ebbert was recognized. This means sticking with tools like crosscut saws as opposed to chainsaws.
While it takes more effort to get projects done in the wilderness with hand tools, Ebbert said it’s important to adhere to the Wilderness Act’s standards and maintain the character of wilderness.
“It’s one of our goals to provide primitive recreation, and one of the ways we can do that is to use primitive tools to accomplish whatever work we’re doing out there,” Massman said. “She’s done an amazing job with that and with passing along the wilderness ethic to all of these partner groups that she’s worked with over the years.”
Massman said Ebbert’s contributions to wilderness education, working with volunteer groups to ensure they’re fully equipped to handle traditional tools and maintenance, make her even more deserving of the recognition.
“We’re really lucky to have Cindy Ebbert on the Dillon Ranger District,” Massman said. “The Dillon Ranger District is one of the most visited Forest Service ranger districts in the country, and to have someone who’s been able to keep up with the maintenance and management needs of our local wilderness areas — which are heavily used — for that amount of time is very fortunate. They’re in the good condition they’re in largely thanks to her.”