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The US Forest Service (USFS) has seen the light when it comes to backcountry trail reconnaissance - the ├Čultra├« light, that is. USFS managers in the Los Padres National Forest have chosen a group of veteran ultralight hikers and trail builders, the Litehikers, to complete difficult post-disaster backcountry wilderness patrols or recons.

Ultralight backpackers can move faster, covering more ground in a shorter time than traditional backcountry rangers on horses or those with heavy packs and boots. In dangerous post-disaster conditions, ultralighters can negotiate washed out or snag-ridden trails more safely because of their lower center of gravity and lower profiles. The information gathered by the ultralight crew enables the officials to quickly determine which trails to open, close, or repair. For the public, this speeds the possibility of trail access, rather than typical district-wide closures following a disaster such as a fire or flood.

In the past, this task would have been assigned to paid backcountry rangers who lived in stations throughout the forest, but due to funding issues, the Los Padres Forest Service has partnered with volunteers known as Volunteer Wilderness Rangers (VWRs). VWRs are trained by the Forest Service and operate as non-paid employees. Not all VWRs in this area practice ultralight backpacking, though many are converting after seeing the distances covered by the ultralight crew.

ARTICLE OUTLINE

  • Introduction
  • Disaster Strikes
  • The Litehiker Recon Team
  • Just the Beginning
  • Gearheads
  • Backtracking
  • Campfire Stories
  • The Troops Return
  • Recon Results
  • VWR Programs
  • Author's Bio

# WORDS: 2540
# PHOTOS: 6

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