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Board members from AIM for Wilderness Stewardship, Inc. held an open house at the Potosi-Fredericktown Ranger District. Board members traveled from Arkansas, Illinois and Missouri to meet and discuss opportunities to work with public land agencies on wilderness protection and management projects. Pictured are: (back row) Glen Bishop, Chair; Scott Merritt; Terry Fredrick; April Scott; and Mike Reed; (front row) Isaiah Tanner, Project Assistant; Molly Maxwell, Executive Director; and Donna Kridelbough.

Bell Mountain, Devil’s Backbone, Hercules Glades, Irish, Paddy Creek, Piney Creek, Rock Pile Mountain, and Mingo – these are Missouri’s eight Congressionally-designated wilderness areas. Each has an interesting story to tell, a reason for being a part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. They are very special places.

Aldo Leopold, the great conservationist, once declared, “The richest values of wilderness lie not in the days of Daniel Boone, nor even in the present, but rather in the future.” Protecting and managing wilderness areas to preserve their character for future generations is an important goal of federal land agencies. Fortunately, there are volunteers and partners to help with this big task.

Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri (AIM) for Wilderness Stewardship is one of these organizations.

Founded in September 2016, AIM for Wilderness Stewardship’s mission is to assist federal land agencies in Arkansas, Illinois and Missouri in managing and protecting present and potential wilderness areas under their jurisdictions. To achieve this mission, the organization mobilizes human, financial and in-kind resources from diverse communities throughout the tristate area and beyond, and then directs their application to the needs of wilderness as mutually agreed upon with the land agencies.

AIM for Wilderness Stewardship board members recently held a retreat at Mark Twain National Forest where they hiked trails in Rock Pile Mountain Wilderness and Bell Mountain Wilderness. While in the area, they held an open house at the Potosi Ranger Station to meet Forest Service managers and other conservation organizations.

I visited with Mollie Maxwell, the executive director for AIM for Wilderness Stewardship, about upcoming projects and programs. The organization is relatively new, yet big projects are already underway to help land managers protect and manage wilderness in the three-state region.

First, I had to ask Maxwell what her favorite project has been, to date. Without hesitating, she described a recent project in the Irish Wilderness on the Eleven Point Ranger District. “We joined together with the Forest Service and Mingo Job Corps’ Wilderness Discovery Club to catalogue populations of non-native invasive plants and locations of feral hogs in the Irish Wilderness.”

Results of the Irish Wilderness survey showed non-native invasive species were heavier near the Eleven Point River and at lower elevations, and that Japanese stiltgrass and multiflora rose were the primary non-native species documented. Ms. Maxwell reported that a management plan will be developed to eradicate the non-native invasive species.

“Wilderness education is a big priority for AIM for Wilderness Stewardship”, explained Ms. Maxwell. “Having the Mingo Job Corps students assisting with the survey enabled us to introduce them to their first wilderness experience, which included a lot of hiking, camping, and even a bit of canoeing”.

AIM for Wilderness Stewardship is co-hosting the Great Rivers Wilderness Skills Institute in November, near Carbondale, Illinois. “For one week in November, students learn and live together for four to six days in the midst of the Shawnee National Forest and participate in one of two sessions,” said Ms. Maxwell. “We are co-hosting this skills institute with the Forest Service in order to offer people the opportunity to learn traditional skills with crosscut saws or foundational principles of wilderness stewardship.”

To learn more about AIM for Wilderness Stewardship’s past projects and future endeavors, visit their website at http://www.aimwild.org/. As a land manager, I am excited to have such a dedicated group of people working alongside me as we protect and manage our spectacular wilderness areas.

The Potosi Ranger Station is open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. You can reach us by calling 573-438-5427. To receive updates on Mark Twain National Forest events and happenings, follow us on Twitter @marktwain_nf, and like us on our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/marktwainnationalforest.

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