OUT: Haggerty’s Hikes Column March 22, 2009
FIGHTING FOR JUSTICE (AND AGAINST WEEDS) ON THE COLORADO
“With his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early western United States. Nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. From out of the past come the thundering hoof beats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!”
The Lone Ranger of the Mighty Colorado River, Troy Schnurr, would have fit in well in the old American West. He would not have made it in the city.
To this day, he can’t ride a desk, but he sure can handle a raft — silver or not.
He hates office meetings but bravely leads his faithful companion, Wayne Hare, and others through Ruby and Horsethief canyons to fight nasty purple loosestrife or water-sucking tamarisk, or bring to justice (or the dump) coolers, tires and other assorted riffraff.
Schnurr has been the personal guardian of this magnificent stretch of river for more than 15 years. He’s the Bureau of Land Management’s McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area supervisory ranger.
I’m guessing they’ll never build a monument to Schnurr’s office work, but for his river work?
That’s another story.
Schnurr recently garnered national recognition as River Manager of the Year by the River Management Society, a professional organization of river managers across the country dedicated to the long-term health and protection of our nation’s waterways.
McInnis Canyon NCA Park Ranger Wayne Hare explained, “This award isn’t from a government agency. This is from a national professional organization – and that really says a lot about Troy.”
The stretch of river Schnurr watches over receives heavy use because of its easy access and because it is “flat water,” meaning “no rapids.” While it attracts many experienced users because of its sheer beauty, this reach also sees a considerable amount of novice and party users. It may be flat, but it remains a powerful and fast-moving river. Novice and party users must use caution, or Schnurr will have to rescue them, too.
There’s no doubt Schnurr is “absolutely committed to the long-term health and protection of the river corridor,” as his buddy Hare says. However, he’s also the most low-key and effective ambassador of outdoor education I have ever met— and I’ve worked with resource personnel for 31 years.
Schnurr is the expert at talking to rafters about proper river etiquette, leave-no-trace camping and the principles of good land stewardship.
With a sparkle in his eye and a sly smile behind a wily, white mustache, Schnurr can tell a gaggle of uneducated outdoor geeks they’re dumb as stumps, and they’ll shake his hand, thanking him for enlightenment.
“Troy has provided real leadership in promoting and protecting natural, cultural and recreational resources along the river,” Hare said. “He’s always maintained a steady, active presence on the river, even during all those years when he was the only ranger patrolling 123,400 acres.”
Today, Schnurr has Hare and others who help as he oversees a seasonal staff, coordinates with local law enforcement and Mesa County Search and Rescue, and monitors outfitter compliance and individual usage.
On a typical weekend, there may be up to 350 individual users camping on the river. That’s a lot of folks — and a lot of river— for one guy to protect.
When I first floated down this reach, the only campground was at Black Rocks, famous for cliffs you can dive from but never surface from because of the river’s swirling, 80-foot-deep currents. Schnurr now has established 25 improved campsites along the river, which involved removing hundreds of acres of tamarisk and Russian knapweed, as well as “fireproofing” the sites by removing cheat grass.
It takes about two years to prepare a new campsite. Most years, Schnurr worked alone.
He’s also personally planted more than 70 trees and wrapped 250 to 300 additional trees with chicken wire to keep the river, the critters or the humanoids from destroying them. He directed the planting and protection of hundreds more.
He’s the guy who started leaving five-gallon buckets along the river with instructions for anyone who comes by to water the trees. Because of this simple prod, people have really taken ownership of this river, and it shows. (The technique is now used in other river drainages, as well.)
Here’s what really shows, though. According to Hare, “There is probably no other river in the western United States and possibly in the country that so completely bears the stamp of just one lone ranger. Troy rightfully refers to the river, the equipment, the flora, the fauna, the shore, the island, and the campsites as his. He’s earned it.”
“Who was that masked man?”
“Why, he’s the Lone Ranger!”