The San Juan National Forest paints an iconic background for the region, blanketing the meadows and mountains with spruce, juniper, aspen and ponderosa groves, home to an abundance of resources that draw visitors with many an interest area. The niches are broad, but the forest fills them each, in keeping with the U.S. Forest Service’s motto of “caring for the land and serving people.”
To that end, the Forest Service manages its wards – including the 1.9 million acre San Juan National Forest – with a holistic goal in mind: “to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.” And the present generations are well aware of the bounty contained within Southwest Colorado’s home forest, gathering timber, mushrooms, spruce tips, medicinal and culinary herbs, fish and game all to give deeper meaning to the term “locally sourced.”
And the uses are many and creative. Mushroom aficionados can cobble together a gourmet feast from the forest floor, and this summer’s heavy monsoon season rain has brought a bumper crop of chanterelle, bolete and other high-brow mushrooms to Durango’s backyard. Steamworks Brewing Co. is featuring the Colorado state tree in a somewhat nontraditional way, using new growth on spruce boughs in a beer that will be ready for consumption Nov. 1. Furniture makers and carpenters relish dead-standing trees in the forest, and harvest the wood for its decorative value. The end result has a unique tie to its source. Many a local wood stove is fueled by fallen trees in the national forest, and many Christmases meet their traditional decorative standards with pines from those same public lands.
Venturing into the forest to gather its seasonal offerings is an experience that connects locals and visitors to the land and its bounty in a way that a trip on the San Juan Skyway can only hint at. The Forest Service makes this sort of access easy, with many products available for gathering without permits, and still more is accessible with a low-cost license. Combined with the renowned hunting and fishing opportunities that abound on the San Juan National Forest, the public resource is a veritable treasure trove of commodities and oddities alike.
There is much to learn about the forest ecosystem and all that it offers – for human consumption and otherwise. An appreciation of the forest’s beauty is just the beginning, albeit a critical first step, in understanding the extent of its resources and riches. The Forest Service’s commitment to managing those resources to the benefit of all is admirable, as is its execution of its multiple-use mission. Enjoy the San Juan National Forest, whether visiting it or taking in its many wares.