Desolation Wilderness has women’s touch |

Desolation Wilderness has women’s touch

Rachel Marker has a small favor to ask irresponsible hikers and campers who use Desolation Wilderness each summer.

Make the effort to bury your poop. Because it is protected wilderness, no toilets are allowed in Desolation, a 63,000-acre area at South Shore. If people don’t bury their waste, Marker or one of the other U.S. Forest Service rangers has to do it.

“That’s why it’s a big pet peeve,” said Bethany Hinchliffe, a ranger who in her second summer of patrolling Desolation from May to September.

Wilderness rangers are a luxury these days, says Don Lane, recreation officer for the Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. He can afford to field rangers this summer because in 1997 the Forest Service began to charge a fee to people who camp in Desolation. The fee to get a camping permit — $5 a night, $10 for two or more nights — creates about $130,000 in revenue a year.

Lane, who supervises the rangers, said at first he resisted the idea of charging a fee to enter the area but soon changed his mind.

“It has turned out to be very successful,” he said. “Almost every nickel we collect pays for staff, signs (and) the visitor center trailer.”

A trailer is set up at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center each summer so campers don’t have to travel back to the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Supervisor’s Office on Al Tahoe Boulevard to obtain permits.

Up to three rangers are out on weekends patrolling the most southern section of Desolation, considered the most popular area in the wilderness. It is jointly managed by the the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and Eldorado National Forest.

In addition to burying human waste and packing out garbage, rangers also help the 115,000 people who visit Desolation each year. They carry a radio, a shovel and a first-aid kit. They share water and directions. They also hike the backcountry to check for camping permits and illegal fires, which are allowed in a wilderness area.

“There are lines of people wanting to talk to you,” said Suzy LaGrandeur, in her fifth year as a Desolation ranger.

When she first took the job it was more difficult to issue tickets, which are expensive, LaGrandeur said. The fine is $270 for an illegal fire and $100 for camping without a permit. But once she spent more time in the wilderness, she said it became easier to hand out tickets.

“You develop a real passion for Desolation,” LaGrandeur said.

LaGrandeur is one of five rangers working the wilderness this summer. Four of them are women. Lane said he hired the rangers from a pool of about 40 applicants because they qualified for the job by having passion for camping, hiking and Tahoe backcountry.

“Sometimes they look at us like we’re overgrown Girl Scouts,” LaGrandeur said. “But once you open your mouth they take you seriously … we’re a tough group of broads. Don’t mess with any of us.”

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at

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