Alabama is home to three federally-designated Wilderness areas – Sipsey Wilderness, Cheaha Wilderness, and Dugger Mountain Wilderness. These incredibly biodiverse and geologically-fascinating areas each possess their own unique Wilderness character and natural majesty.

It took the hard work of many dedicated activists, naturalists, recreationists, and public lands enthusiasts to protect these lands, securing their inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System. Wild South’s Helping Hands and Volunteer Wilderness Ranger programs seek to honor that hard work by protecting Alabama’s last wild places. 

Many Helping Hands Make Light Work

The breath-taking vistas, amazing rock formations, and wild waterways found in Alabama’s Wilderness areas make them popular recreation destinations. Their popularity means increasing recreational impact, which translates to a greater need for ongoing stewardship.

Wild South identified this need in 2007 and responded by developing the Helping Hands Program. This Wilderness-wide stewardship initiative puts boots on the ground year-round in an effort to mitigate recreation impact in Alabama’s wildest places, identifying the short- and long-term needs of the forest and implementing practical solutions. 

From removing non-native invasive Chinese privet, to using traditional tools to clear hiking trails, this program focuses on the most pressing Wilderness conservation needs. In partnership with the US Forest Service, we maintain more than 27 miles of trail in the Sipsey Wilderness alone.

Over the years, the work of Wild South VWRs has made a lasting impact on both the Wilderness areas and the communities that support them. VWRs extinguish countless campfires, preventing costly and damaging forest fires. They collect truckloads of trash and remove unnecessary fire rings, preserving and restoring Wilderness character. Their friendly guidance and trailhead education empower hundreds of individuals to safely navigate the forest while minimally impacting the Wilderness. 

The Helping Hands program continues to thrive, empowering more individuals each year to take care of Alabama’s wild places. In the last 12 months, Helping Hands volunteers have: 

  • Donated more than 4,000 volunteer hours toward preserving Wilderness
  • Managed 3 Wilderness areas in 2 National Forests
  • Actively maintained more than 27 miles of trail in the Sipsey Wilderness alone
  • Engaged in more than 145 hours of crosscut saw training

(This program would not be possible without the support of the US Forest Service, the National Forest Foundation, and generous individual donations. We provide weekly opportunities for the public of all ages to take part in the Helping Hands program – for more information, email

Volunteer Wilderness Rangers on Patrol

Founded in 2011, the Wild South Volunteer Wilderness Ranger (VWR) program provides trailhead education and monitoring, trail maintenance, and Wilderness emergency support in Alabama’s three Wilderness areas. The program’s goal is to reduce recreation impact on Wilderness, educate communities about public lands, and improve the visitor experience in these areas.  

In 2015, Wild South VWRs responded to the infamous “Big Tree” wildfire in the Sipsey Wilderness. Rangers received a call for help, and within four hours more than a dozen VWRs had already evacuated or relocated 100 Wilderness visitors along the Sipsey fork.

For two weeks after the initial response, VWRs stationed themselves at popular trailheads while crews worked diligently to contain the fire and reopen trails. This pivotal moment demonstrated the clear need for continued partnership between the Wild South VWR program and the USFS. 

In just the last 12 months, Wild South VWRs have: 

  • Donated more than 12,000 volunteer hours protecting public lands
  • Provided trailhead education & assistance to hundreds of hikers in 3 Wilderness areas
  • Engaged in more than 350 hours of hands-on wilderness training
  • Patrolled & maintained hundreds of miles of trail, especially during peak seasons
  • Assisted with numerous Wilderness search & rescue efforts 

We are so grateful for the positive community feedback our VWR program has received, and look forward to many more years of stewardship, education, and advocacy!

(The Wild South Volunteer Wilderness Ranger program is made possible by the generous support of the US Forest Service, and individual donations. To find out how you can get involved in our VWR program, email

Kim Waites
Alabama Wilderness Volunteer Coordinator

A version of this article was featured in a recent Southern Wilderness Advisory Group newsletter.