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Auburn State Recreation Area Canyon Keepers Exploring the Wonder of Our Own Backyards

03/27/2015 11:38AM ● Published by Morgan Cásarez

Photo by Dante Fontana © Style Media Group

When Gary Hughes took his first hike through the American River Canyon in 2001, he was fascinated by its maze of trails, creeks and rivers. Although he’d lived near Auburn’s Overlook Park for years, he had no idea there was so much to enjoy until his friend and Chairman of the Auburn State Recreation Area Canyon Keepers (ASRACK), Jim Ferris, encouraged him to explore the area. “What I discovered,” Hughes says, “was a huge playground right in my backyard. All I had to do was go there.”

That same year, he and his wife, Gayle, joined ASRACK, an all-volunteer organization dedicated to supporting the Auburn State Recreation Area’s limited staff of professional rangers. Founded in 1998 by Ferris, former Auburn State Recreation Area Superintendent Jill Dampier, and local environmental activist and educator Frank Olrich, the group has grown from just five volunteers to more than 100, each of which contributes $5 in membership dues and a minimum of 16 volunteer hours annually.
Linda LoBue, Jim LoBue, Terry Cook, Gary Hughes, Gayle Hughes, Dave Rohlfes, Cathie Rohlfes and Anita Yoder – Photo by Dante Fontana © Style Media Group
In addition to leading free monthly hikes on local trails and meetings featuring educational guest speakers, from May to September ASRACK promotes public safety within the canyon by distributing information from their duty station at the confluence of the North and Middle Fork of the American River, an area that attracts an estimated one million visitors each year.

“We have helped make the public more aware of the need for volunteers in our community and have made the confluence area much safer and ‘user friendly’ for the public,” explains Ferris, ASRACK’s current program chair. “I have met and come to know many outstanding people, many of whom I call my friends today and from whom I have learned a great deal. That has been very rewarding, and I’ve been grateful for the opportunity.”

Catherine Gause Rohlfes serves as a member of ASRACK’s New Volunteers and General Questions Committee and says she was inspired to join the group because, as a fifth generation native Californian, “I want generations to come to be proud of what we preserved for them to enjoy for many years to come.” To that end, ASRACK volunteers to help ASRA staff with the free Junior Ranger program every summer for children ages 8-12 and actively recruits new members year-round.
Photo by Dante Fontana © Style Media Group

“Our group of volunteers includes many talented people with expertise and enthusiasm in a wide range of topics related to our parks, [including] botany, biology, geology, mining, local history, photography, adventure exploration, boating, fishing, etc.,” shares Jim LoBue, the current Canyon Keepers volunteer chairman and who for the past three years has led an initiative to open the abandoned Mountain Quarries Mine and Hawver Cave for public tours.

“I spend a lot of my personal recreation time hiking, mountain biking, kayaking [and] backpacking,” he shares. “After I joined [ASRACK] and got involved, I came to know and really enjoy the company of all the great folks in our organization. I also feel a moral commitment to support the environment and our local community. It all fits together.”

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