The backcountry is a great equalizer, a place where people from all walks of life can put aside their differences.  They can focus on the joy of climbing a peak or the beauty of a waterfall.  The things that divide us are left behind, leaving only the unifying nature of living intimately with the land, even if that is for only a brief period.  In the backcountry, everyone looks out for one another, regardless of whether they are a best friend or a stranger.

The volunteers that help maintain our public lands represent the epitome of this altruistic behavior.  They give their time, money, and health to make sure that others have a safe and enjoyable trip.  One of the groups that never cease to amaze me in regard to selfless determination for the greater good is Lean2Rescue.

Lean2Rescue volunteers turn out in surprising numbers, weekend after weekend, to help build and restore lean-tos across the Adirondacks.  I have yet to witness them accomplish anything short of amazing.  My first encounter with Lean2Rescue was during their work on the Howard Lean-to.  We hosted them in Johns Brook Lodge (JBL) for a winter weekend in 2012.  That weekend, they dragged four large logs 3.5 miles over a rocky snow-less trail.  They returned several weeks later to dismantle and move the Howard Lean-to about a quarter of a mile uphill above the Johns Brook Interior Outpost.  The following year they again stayed at JBL while they worked on moving the Wolf Jaws Lean-to downhill several tenths of a mile.  They dismantled, moved, and reassembled the lean-to in about two days.  Finally, this year they built an entirely new lean-to at Bushnell Falls, replacing the one right next to Johns Brook.  They thought having all of the materials flown in by the Department of Environmental Conservation was too easy, so they carried most of the roof boards in from the parking lot, a distance of just over 5 miles.  I’m not sure “can’t” is in the vocabulary of these people.  Every time I have seen them faced with a new challenge they pull together and take it on, only to laugh about the absurdity of the task later.  Lean2Rescue is but one example of many groups pulling together seemingly disparate individuals to accomplish a tremendous amount of work.

I love working in the backcountry because of the lack of people, but I also love working in the backcountry because of the people.  The backcountry is a place where we can be reminded of the fundamentals of life; food, water, and shelter.  There is another fundamental though, that is other people.  We all rely and depend on other people, but those connections are more obvious in the backcountry.  Working with groups like Lean2Rescue reminds me that protecting wild places is more than just protecting the environment. Protecting wild places is also about protecting a way of interacting with one another that we aren’t often exposed to in our day-to-day lives.