Ventana Wilderness Alliance



In 1998, a group of avid conservationists began an inventory of lands within the Los Padres National Forest Monterey Ranger District, to determine their suitability for federal designation as wilderness. The newly founded Ventana Wilderness Alliance (VWA) presented its findings to US Congressman Sam Farr, providing a basis for the Big Sur Wilderness and Conservation Act, signed into law in December, 2002. Ever since, the VWA has designed and implemented a wide range of advocacy and stewardship programs focused on the protection of these public lands and the wild species within.
Since 1998, the Ventana Wilderness Alliance (VWA) has protected an enduring resource of wilderness on California’s central coast. Early campaigns included expansion of the Ventana and Silver Peak Wilderness areas, halting a military bombing range on Fort Hunter-Liggett, and retiring destructive grazing allotments on the Big Sur coast. As the Wilderness Act approached its 50th anniversary, the organization’s tactics matured to include wildland fire policy reform, marijuana growsite restorations, trail maintenance, and assisting the Forest Service with visitor use management. At present, three VWA stewardship programs connect constituents with their public lands. Our Trail Program protects backcountry access; Volunteer Wilderness Rangers teach visitors to Leave No Trace and prevent human-caused wildfires; the Youth in Wilderness program inspires and mentors the next generation of wilderness advocates. With a federal government seemingly determined to eliminate environmental regulations and liquidate its inventory of public lands, maintaining an active conservation constituency has never been more essential. Distributing placebased stewardship across a dedicated team of non-profit staff and volunteers, and trumpeting the benefits of protected public lands has inherent value. Most importantly, an organization that cares for existing wildlands possesses the unique moral authority to influence their management and preservation. Thanks to major donors and targeted grants, VWA stewardship programs are selfsustaining with independent budgets. However, the organization’s underlying advocacy mission depends on core staff monitoring agency-proposed actions, fielding phone calls, executing outreach events, and broadcasting important stories. Fortunately, organizational sustainability relies on an ever-diversifying range of funding. Membership dues, special appeals and outreach events are all essential ingredients, but delivering the VWA mission would simply not be possible without strategic funding from visionary individuals and foundations.

Mission Statement

The mission of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance is to protect, preserve, and restore the wilderness qualities and biodiversity of the public lands within California's northern Santa Lucia Mountains and Big Sur coast.

Program Details

Trail Program:
A 300-plus mile trail system, constructed at considerable public expense, once offered hikers, backpackers and equestrians opportunities to experience the Big Sur backcountry with relative ease. Nowadays, the lapse of Forest Service funding has rendered the vast majority of these trails barely passable. Ever-more frequent wildfires produce deadfall, vegetative re-growth and erosion that continuously add to the maintenance backlog. Loops and through-hikes in the Big Sur backcountry often involve extensive stretches of brushy, difficult and even outright dangerous trails.
With the help of major donors, contract crews and dedicated volunteers, the VWA has developed a time-tested strategy to protect and restore backcountry access. Every project is carefully planned with the guidance of the VWA Trail Crew Chief and Trails Committee, and executed with the careful supervision of the VWA Stewardship Program Coordinator.
  1. The Ventana Trails Forever endowment at the Community Foundation for Monterey County generates annual funds, which are leveraged by contributions from generous donors and matching awards from major foundations. The funds cover the cost of tools, training, contract crews and project leadership.
  2. Contract crews are hired for focused projects, including work deep in the backcountry, to complete maintenance and restoration beyond the reach or skill level of the average weekend volunteer. Stewardship Program Coordination oversight ensures work of the highest standard, strictly adherent to appropriate environmental regulations.
  3. The VWA trains and deploys an all-volunteer Trail Crew to survey conditions, perform routine brushing and deadfall removal, and supplement contract crew accomplishments, ensuring pack stock accessibility whenever possible.
Volunteer Wilderness Ranger Program:
The VWA partners with the US Forest Service to organize, train and outfit Volunteer Wilderness Rangers. These dedicated volunteers hike the trails, clean up trash and impart Leave No Trace principles to backcountry visitors. Patrols are focused on the most heavily-used trails and camps (such as the camps along the Pine Ridge Trail), especially over holiday weekends.
With the Big Sur backcountry so close to large population centers, there is a gap between high visitor use and the public contact that needs to happen in the forest. Many visitors don’t understand how their behavior in the wilderness affects fire safety, water quality and resource protection.
Youth in Wilderness Program:
Volumes of peer‐reviewed research emphasize the importance of connecting young people with nature and the influence this contact has in the development of community‐oriented, conservation‐minded adults. The VWA’s Youth in Wilderness program builds a foundation for healthy lifestyles, community leadership, problem‐solving skills and conservation ethics by providing outdoor education to local students on the public lands of the Ventana and Silver Peak Wildernesses (native lands of the Esselen, Rumsen, and Salinan people).
The mission of the Youth in Wilderness (YiW) program is to inspire, educate and motivate future generations of central California's wilderness advocates and stewards. Supported by preparatory classroom workshops, YiW organizes, outfits and leads young people in central California on hikes and overnight wilderness backpacking trips. These life‐changing experiences are provided at no cost to participants. Click HERE to learn more about YiW trips.
  • ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Since its inception in 2008 through December 2018, YiW has led 3,031 local young people on 150 hikes and backpacking trips. Participating students have received 13,501 hours of customized outdoor education and contributed 9,999 hours of public lands stewardship.
Primary Issue
PO Box 506
Santa Cruz, CA 95061-0506
United States
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