Los Padres Forest Association Shows How to Give Back to the Places We Love
Loving the outdoors requires us all to be good stewards of the lands where we choose to play. Many national and state parks and forests rely on nonprofit partners to help educate the public and take care of the wilderness. Los Padres Forest Association (LPFA), along with its dedicated volunteers, works to support Los Padres National Forest—nearly two million acres of wilderness in southern and central California.
Bryan Conant has been the Executive Director of LPFA since 2013. He has a strong background in trail design and maintenance and works closely with the Los Padres National Forest and other partner organizations to oversee the maintenance and restoration of trails. He also enjoys backpacking, hiking, and mountain biking in the forest.
Paul Cronshaw, also known as “The Beeman” for his beekeeping passion, is a Gossamer Gear brand ambassador, as well as the Lite Hiker Coordinator and a Volunteer Wilderness Ranger with LPFA. Through his passion for the Los Padres National Forest, Gossamer Gear has had a chance to partner with LPFA in supporting this wilderness—particularly through a pretty stellar used gear sale that happens each October! Read more about that and much more below.
Interview With Bryan Conant and Paul Cronshaw on the Los Padres Forest Association
We caught up with Bryan and Paul to learn more about their work with LPFA, how their epic used gear sale got started, and how you can help with the organization’s mission. We hope their insights inspire you to get involved with LPFA or another nonprofit supporting the naturescapes where you play.
Gossamer Gear: Bryan, can you start us off by giving a little overview of what Los Padres Forest Association does?
Bryan: The Los Padres Forest Association (LPFA) was founded in 1979 as an interpretive organization focused on educating the public about the forest and helping preserve many of the historic treasures within Los Padres National Forest. We currently manage two visitor centers here in Los Padres. Between the visitor centers, our websites, and social media, we spend a great deal of time helping the public enjoy the forest in a safe and responsible manner.
While our roots remain in education, a great deal of our energy is also focused on trail maintenance and helping the public get into the forest. We have a full-time professional trail crew that works tirelessly around the forest helping keep the trails open and we also lead regular volunteer trail projects ranging from single day to 10+ day working vacations. In addition, we help with sign installations, campground repairs, historic building maintenance, outreach, and basically anything else that might be needed across Los Padres. If you boil it all down, LPFA is here to help people enjoy their time in the forest, help the Forest Service as much as we can, and help ensure Los Padres National Forest is cared for today and into the future.
Paul, in what ways have you been involved with LPFA over the years?
Paul: In 2000, I attended my first Los Padres National Forest Volunteer Wilderness Ranger (VWR) training class taught by Dave Weaver. I was hooked and signed up to be one of his first rangers in the program. Over the years, I have been involved with LPFA through several programs, including:
- Los Padres National Forest VWR, doing wilderness patrols (“eyes and ears” in the forest), trail surveys, trail maintenance, and guiding Boy Scout Eagle projects
- Lightweight backpacking coordinator (AKA: Long Ranger Special Forces; Our motto: Take Less, Go Fast, Go Far), making lightweight gear presentations to the public and Boy Scout troops
- Co-instructor for LPFA’s “Fundamentals of Backpacking” class
- LPFA representative at public and Boy Scout troop meetings
- Honeybee consultant
- Trail sign restorer
- Wilderness toilet maintainer
What makes this organization particularly special to you?
Paul: I have enjoyed the social connections of knowing and sharing many trips and projects with other like-minded LPFA volunteers who collaborate with the Forest Service to maintain the Los Padres National Forest. Backpacking and working on LPFA trail projects has kept me in good physical shape to live a life exemplified by a bumper sticker—“Volunteers Live Longer”—and has helped me deal with my “Nature Deficit Disorder.”
What’s one memory each of you have from your involvement with LPFA that you think captures the essence of the nonprofit?
Bryan: I think LPFA is at its best during our large scale working vacation volunteer trail projects. We usually host 3 to 4 working vacations each year and we get so much great trail work done and have so much fun in the process. Our working vacations generally have around 20 to 30 volunteers and we are out on the trail for 7 to 10 days at a time. LPFA provides all the food and drinks for the time we’re out there, and we utilize mule packers to help bring in all the gear, food, and supplies. We have a designated cook who stays at camp and helps make sure all the volunteers are well fed. Meanwhile, the volunteers are out on the trail eight hours a day clearing brush, cross-cutting downed trees, and clearing whatever other trail obstacles we might encounter. The working vacations are open to everyone. We get a great diverse group of volunteers and everyone gets into a really healthy flow during the week where you’re with friends, in the forest, and helping with the trails we all love. The working vacations are the best!
Paul: There are many LPFA memories, but perhaps the most memorable one is the rebuilding of South Fork Guard Station. I could write a lot about this restoration process, but Rik Christensen wrote a wonderful manuscript called “Saving South Fork Cabin.” You can read a copy of it here. This ongoing cabin maintenance project continues to capture the essence of volunteerism for a nonprofit organization.
Let’s talk about the annual gear sale! How did it get started and how has it evolved over time? What makes it a unique event?
Paul: It started in 2016 when Gossamer Gear sent us some boxes of used gear. Some of it needed repair work. Fortunately, Rik was an automobile restoration specialist, a lightweight backpacker, and seamster. He used his heavy-duty sewing machine to repair many distressed backpacking gear items. Except for a couple years, it has evolved to become an annual event. It is a unique event where the public can donate used gear to support LPFA. The attendees are introduced to LPFA and Gossamer Gear. It is a one-day event where fellow outdoor enthusiasts come together, reconnect, and swap stories about gear and backpacking trips.
Bryan: Rik happily took the reins and was the lead for the first five or so events. Paul has followed the blueprint and took over for Rik the past two years. Both Rik and Paul have been the heart and soul of the used gear sale, and their enthusiasm for gear and trails is just everywhere at these events—you can almost see it. I think what truly makes this event unique is the passion and love of the forest that we all share, and it’s never more apparent than at these events. We’re not only trying to help people get set up with some sweet trail gear, but also talking about our local trails and sharing stories about the history of the forest and what trails are in good shape or bad shape, where the best water is, etc. It’s more of a Los Padres trails love fest that happens to also have gear for sale. Like I said, it all starts with our great volunteers like Paul, and of course, having the awesome support from Gossamer Gear makes it that much better too!
You’ve both mentioned our dear friend Rik Christensen a bit already, and this is the first year of the event since he passed. Can you share a little on Rik’s contributions to LPFA and any ways you may be honoring his legacy?
Bryan: Rik was just so passionate and stoked on the forest and trails that it was infectious. He absolutely shined at the used gear sales. Hearing him talk with someone about Gossamer Gear packs, getting them fitted with the perfect one, and chatting about trails and being outside—it was magical hearing him in his element. In addition to the used gear sale, Rik was always down to support whatever LPFA had going on in the forest. He was a stalwart at all our working vacations. He was pretty much constantly on the trails, and just such a great ambassador not only for Gossamer Gear and LPFA, but most importantly, for being outside. I so miss him.
Paul: Rik’s contributions (AKA: Ranger Rik) to LPFA include:
- VWR, doing wilderness patrols, trail surveys, and trail maintenance
- Founder and coordinator of the LPFA annual used gear sale
- South Fork Guard Station restoration project coordinator
- LPFA representative at public and Boy Scout troop meetings
Rik is a legend in the Los Padres National Forest. We are honoring him at this year’s LPFA used gear sale event. We will also be honoring his legacy with a memorial plaque on the South Fork Guard Station.
In what ways has LPFA partnered with Gossamer Gear over time and what has that connection meant for your work?
Bryan: The used gear sale is certainly at the forefront with regards to the partnership between LPFA and Gossamer Gear. I am a mountain biker, hiker, dog walker, and trail designer, but more than anything else, I am a backpacker. To me, having the support of the industry leader in backpacking gear (Gossamer Gear), is just so cool. That support validates much of what we do and for sure helps LPFA in the eyes of backpackers across the region. For us to say that we partner with Gossamer Gear is truly a game changer. THANK YOU!
Paul: LPFA is the recipient of used gear from Gossamer Gear, with proceeds helping to maintain trails in Los Padres National Forest.
What are the best ways people can support LPFA and get more involved?
Bryan: We’re always looking for people to help us help the forest. That can be done through donations, by coming out and volunteering with us, or even by sharing information from your time in the forest. We learn so much just from people emailing us after their forest trips and letting us know about trail conditions, water availability, or whatever else they found along their trip. We love helping trail users, but at the same time, we also love trail users helping us. We’re here to help the forest and we’ll take whatever support we can from people who also want to help the forest. That being said, we’re always looking for people who like to menu-plan and cook on our working vacations!
Paul: Through volunteering, attending LPFA working vacations and other trail-related projects, posting outdoor experiences on social media, and camp and trail updates on the Hike Los Padres website.
Support Los Padres Forest Association in Sustaining Our Public Lands for Years to Come
Organizations like LPFA ensure that the trails we love last for generations. They create a community of people who care and can share their love of the outdoors together. If you’d like to support LPFA, check out their website for more information on how to donate, volunteer, or attend one of their events. Their famous annual used gear sale will take place on October 22, 2023, if you’re looking for great deals on Gossamer Gear products and other gently loved gear.
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