The Pinal Mountains lie within the Globe Ranger District, which covers approximately 500,000 acres in the Tonto National Forest. Photo by Jenn Walker
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The Secret to Keeping the Globe Ranger District Alive

Donnie and Barbie Borinski live a different lifestyle than most. They spend their summer months in Colorado, Wyoming or Montana, backpacking in the wilderness. Then, in either the fall or spring, the couple, along with Mate, their three-year-old Australian shepherd, drive out to Globe in their 2011 Tiger Bengal TX motorhome. For the next several weeks to several months, they are camped at Ice House Canyon*. 

For the Borinskis, this becomes home. There are no water or electricity hook-ups at the campground. They stay in the company of javelina, tarantulas, and coyotes, with nights lit by moonlight.

The Pinal Mountains lie within the Globe Ranger District, which covers approximately 500,000 acres in the Tonto National Forest. Photo by Jenn Walker
The Pinal Mountains lie within the Globe Ranger District, which covers approximately 500,000 acres in the Tonto National Forest. Photo by Jenn Walker

To some, it’s an enviable lifestyle. Once stationed at Ice House, the self-titled Wanderers spend their days outside volunteering for the Forest Service in the Globe Ranger District. They help wherever they’re needed. Usually that means hiking all the trails, routing, surveying, and staking each one, and supporting trail crews.

The Tonto National Forest is the fifth largest national forest in the U.S., covering almost three million acres of Arizona. It is the largest of the six national forests in the state.

The Globe Ranger District is one of six ranger districts within the forest, covering approximately 500,000 acres, and offering miles of trails.

Managing that amount of acreage is a daunting task. People dump furniture and garbage along Forest Service roads, and leave trash at campsites. Invasive species need managing. Twenty five bathrooms throughout the district need cleaning, and trails need upkeep. On top of all this, how do you provide sustainable recreation around these areas, whether its day sites or hiking trails?

As the budget for national forests continues to decline, the Forest Service has to get more creative about spreading resources and managing the lands. It’s no mystery that money is tight. The question has become a matter not of whether or not tasks are fulfilled, but how they are fulfilled.

“Everything has been affected by the diminishing budget,” says Neil Bosworth, the forest supervisor of the Tonto National Forest. “But it’s forcing us to look at partnerships, and forcing us to look at working with other agencies.”

Keeping the Tonto Forest and the Globe District vibrant requires a lot of moving parts, including a pool of hundreds of volunteers of all ages, including the Borinskis, who offer their time to various projects throughout the year.

In one way or another, volunteers supplement the work done by the Globe Ranger District, which employs about 20 people year-round, including a district ranger, in addition to employees who cover areas like: cattle and grazing, recreation, minerals, law enforcement, fire shop, biology, and administration. They also have a rotating crew of 30 or so firefighters.

“There are miles upon miles of trails, but there is no money for them in the budget,” says Paul Burghard, the Globe District’s recreation manager.

The Borinskis hit the trails with their dog Mate
The Borinskis hit the trails with their dog Mate.

So, the district looks for committed volunteers like the Borinskis to fill in the gaps. The Borinskis are a retired couple originally from San Diego; they are also experienced backcountry hikers. They discovered this area two years ago, and once they found out there was a need for volunteers, they stuck around for several months. Now, their love of the area keeps them coming back. They are just two of many who keep the forest in shape.

“These are folks who come into Globe because they like Globe,” Burghard says. “They are dry camping, and it’s hard work. They might work three to five days on a volunteer basis.”

By dry camping, he means camping without running water or electricity.

“Just today, we had one [trail] crew in the mountains and one crew in Haunted Canyon. We have another crew coming in this afternoon. Jerry and Hans were out cleaning campgrounds. We’re prepping for another crew coming in next week,” Burghard says. “And that’s just on a Monday morning.”

All of the aforementioned people are also volunteers.

Hans Geisholt spends 20 hours a week alongside workers for the National Indian Council on Aging working on light maintenance, and cleaning bathrooms, fire pits, and recreation sites.

Fred Phillips and the Department of Corrections crew are out picking up trash every other week.

The crew in the Haunted Canyon was a “voluntourism” group who worked the trails in March. The group included 12 wilderness volunteers who traveled to the area to spend a week in the canyon in the eastern Superstitions. Groups like these are made up of volunteers from around the country who pay their own way to work in the forests.

Motorized vehicles couldn’t pass through the region, so another volunteer group, the East Valley Backcountry Horsemen, hauled in supplies prior.

When the Forest Service receives a grant for trail maintenance, the work doesn’t stop there. Before the trail crews come in, volunteers are needed to scout the trail, marking where work needs to be done, where the crew will camp, and determine whether or not they will need things like water and ice.

That’s where the Borinskis come in. The couple’s main duties are to not only to scout the trails before the trail crews come in, but also support each crew once they’re out on the trails.

The couple works as a team. Barbie drives Donnie to the start of a trail. Donnie hikes the trails, staking them, flagging them, and taking notes at every quarter mile on things like: what needs to be done with the tread and the trail, where branches need to be cleared, whether the trail needs to be widened, and where there’s bound timber or water erosion.

At the end of the day, Barbie takes the notes and turns them into a spreadsheet, which goes to the trail crews. The spreadsheets help the crews see where the most work needs to be done.

“Obviously trying to get the whole trail done in a week is a lot to do,” Barbie says. “So by looking at the spreadsheet, then Paul knows where to have the crews focus.”

Through the middle of May, while the weather is still mild, different crews show up to the district to do trail work. The goal is for the crews to hit all of the trails to some degree, and handle all the critical work that needs to be done.

Once Donnie and Barbie finish making spreadsheets of the trails, and crews show up, the couple goes into support mode. Every other day they will hike to different crews, bringing them fresh water, taking out their trash, checking for any medical issues (like poison ivy), checking on their work progress, and seeing if they need anything.

“What we started doing with the crews is bringing them candy bars, and leaving them an apple pie or something if they camp, because these kids are up there for basically a week, and they’re working on dehydrated food a lot,” Donnie says.

“And it is physically hard work,” he adds. “These kids work they’re butt off.”

Crews often drive in from Flagstaff or Tucson to work the trails, Burghard says. Armed with picks and shovels, they work in “hitches” (each hitch is 80 hours of work fit into about a week).

They clear the brush growing into the trails. They also manage the tread of the trails and work on portions of the trail that have been eroded by water.

“There is an art and science keeping water off the trails,” Burghard says. “If you imagine a ditch, when you get monsoon rains, the water runs down the ditch and erodes it.”

Whitford Canyon is a perfect example. The trails were damaged in the monsoons, and needed a lot of work.

Although Four Peaks falls into other ranger districts, districts offer help across district lines often, Burghard explains. For instance, last year the Globe District used a grant to work on Four Peaks, a 13-mile long trail project in Mesa. This year they received a grant for the Pinal Mountains.

The Arizona Trail Association often offers help to the districts as well. If a district has a project, they may show up with 20 to 30 people.

“There are a tremendous amount of opportunities for people to work with us, as a partner, volunteer or whatever,” Bosworth concludes.

To people like the Borinskis, volunteering is a win-win situation for everyone.

The Borinskis set up camp at Ice House Canyon campground with their 2011 Tiger Bengal TX motorhome.
The Borinskis set-up camp at Ice House Canyon* with their 2011 Tiger Bengal TX motorhome. Photo by Jenn Walker

“The nice thing is, we’re able to help the Forest Service out, and we’re able to do the things that we enjoy doing,” Barbie says. “We’ve hiked trails that we probably wouldn’t have hiked if it weren’t for doing the volunteer work… Donnie’s hiked I think every trail up here in the Pinals.”

In the first four months they were here, they put in 300-plus miles hiking throughout the Globe district.

“This is a really, really beautiful resource that Globe-Miami has here, so to be able to care of that is giving back, and makes us feel good about doing it,” Donnie adds. “The beauty of it, is everybody who enjoys a forest around here, the locals, the tourists, and the guests alike, benefit from it.”

The Forest Service is consistently looking for volunteers with a variety of skills, and invites anyone interested in volunteering to visit a district office for more details.

*Correction: This article originally stated that the Borinskis are set-up at the Ice House Canyon campground. There is no formal campground set-up there, and we’ve edited this article to reflect that. 






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