Eldorado National Forest Interpretive Association
(back row:) Dawn King, Larry Moore, Jeff Baldwin, Josh Chiavini and Kathie Piaszk (front row): Mary Knowles, Patty Kushner, Becky Shufelt, Danielle Dawson and Kathy Lewin
Most people don’t know there’s a difference between a national park and a national forest. “National parks were created to preserve places—you can’t do much more than look at it—but you can hike, fish, boat, hunt, drive off-road, harvest wood and do all kinds of other things in a national forest,” says Karen Finlayson, former director of the ElDorado National Forest Information Center. “The job of the interpretive association is to support the United States Forest Service (USFS) in helping the public do all those things—without damaging the resource or getting into trouble.”
In that spirit, the Eldorado National Forest Interpretive Association (ENFIA) was launched in 1987 by a group of local citizens and USFS employees who wanted to help the forest and ensure visitors could better understand the area and its importance. It was established following a model created for similar organizations around the country; however, unlike other interpretive associations, ENFIA was set up as a membership organization.
Apparently, that was by popular demand. “A central part of what interpretive associations do is sell products that help raise money for forest services, but for many of us involved back in 1987 that wasn’t enough,” Finlayson says. “These were people who wanted to ‘do something for the forest.’ They wanted to plant trees, build trails, and interact with the public; and they became an army of volunteers.”
Soon after, ENFIA became almost synonymous with construction projects. They implemented improvements at all four of the ranger stations around the forest, built and maintained a nature trail at Bridal Veil Picnic Area, and helped explain the operations of the Placerville Nursery and the millions of seeds it uses in replanting the forest after fires or other disasters.
One of the biggest projects was the construction and staffing of the Carson Pass Information Station, which now serves thousands of forest visitors every year. “The USFS didn’t have the resources to build and staff a facility like that—ENFIA really stepped up and has been providing the staffing and public education services there since the very beginning,” Finlayson says.
Today, ENFIA members and volunteers are active in maintaining trails, staffing the information station and leading interpretive walks at the Carson Pass and Pyramid Creek areas. Several members also participate in the “Forest Walkers” program, where they walk trails to identify maintenance needs and interact with hikers to provide directions and information. On August 19, they’re hosting “A Day on the Lake,” an event at Wright’s Lake featuring hikes, a campfire, demonstrations and more.
Adds Finlayson: “The forest plays a huge role in the most important aspects of our lives—the air we breathe and the water we drink...it’s also an amazing resource for camping and recreation, [but] like anything precious, it needs people committed to caring for it.”