Friends of the Forest 30th anniversary celebration at Chavez Crossing, with Aaron Mayville, Forest Supervisor, Coconino National Forest. Photo courtesy of Melissa Pontikes, Friends of the Forest.

​The U.S. Forest Service was founded in 1905, under the leadership of President Teddy Roosevelt. Its motto is “caring for the land and serving the people”. The Forest Service is mandated to balance five uses of national forest land: recreation, timber, range, wildlife and water.


The Coconino National Forest was established in 1908. The Coconino NF is 1.856-million acres with elevations ranging from 2,600 feet to the highest point in Arizona at 12,633 feet. The name Coconino means “spiritually innocent” in the Hopi language. It was the Hopi name for the Hualapi tribe that lived in the tall pines along the rim of the Colorado plateau.


There are three districts in the Coconino National Forest: Flagstaff, Mogollon Rim and Red Rock. Sedona is part of the Red Rock Ranger District, which covers 550,000 acres.


“Back in 1994, the Coconino National Forest in Sedona needed a friend, in fact it needed lots of them. It didn’t need friends who just wanted to sit around and talk about ‘what’s wrong’. It needed a group that would be supportive, non-judgmental and there when needed – like a true friend – ready and willing to help in times of need. We wanted to form a volunteer group to be there – friends of our forest”, shared Mary Lee Dunning, Founding President of Friends of the Forest.


“We wanted it to be a solution-oriented group”, continued Mary Lee. “It’s easy to identify problems or issues in the area. Sedonians are awfully good at doing that. It’s much more difficult to concentrate on those things that we can do something about. We needed a solution implementer group. This group would have to give up their personal agendas and their issues and their tendency to concentrate on what’s wrong – and become real supporters of our Coconino forest.”


Mary Lee and Terry Adams, then Volunteer Coordinator of the Red Rock Ranger District, took a field trip to Sabino Canyon to visit Friends of Sabino Canyon. They used this model to create Friends of the Forest Sedona. In December 1994, Friends of the Forest embarked on their first project. Volunteers worked with the Forest Service to clean the fields at Crescent Moon. The first trail project was on Soldier Pass to create a trail for hikers that would take them off the jeep road and lead around and past the Devil’s Kitchen to the Seven Sacred Pools.


There have been thirteen Presidents of Friends of the Forest over the past 30 years, each giving their own unique talents, expertise, and energy to the position. Hundreds of volunteers have contributed over 600,000 hours over the past 30 years. In the past year alone, Friends of the Forest hours equated to at least 15 Forest Service employees!


Some of the many projects that Friends of the Forest have been involved with include:
·      Opening Palatki as the second fee demonstration project in the country, with trained volunteer docents
·      Mayhew Lodge Apple Orchard restoration at West Fork
·      Repairing and replacing allotment fencing
·      Graffiti remediation
·      Funded and created 3D interactive terrain model
·      Fencing to protect archeological dwelling sites
·      Rehabilitation of Fossil Creek
·      Manning closures during wildfires<
·      Monitor air and water quality at Fossil Creek area
·      Inventory of lichen
·      Counting and protecting various wildlife
·      Summertime Preventative Search and Rescue at key sites
·      Ongoing trail maintenance and construction, including using horses to get equipment to hard to reach areas
·      Verde River inspection and cleanup with kayaks
·      Grant writing on behalf of the Forest Service
·      Offering land navigation and map reading, survival training, and animal tracks, geology, botany trainings
On a Saturday in April 2024, a 30th year celebration was held at Chavez Crossing campground. Bill Stafford and Bob Tener cooked a Dutch oven feast, of course with the help of many volunteers. S’mores were made over an open camp fire. Trivia, corn hole and volleyball were available. Over 70 volunteers spent the afternoon reminiscing, eating and laughing. Pink Jeep Tours and the Forest Service shuttled people from church parking lots to the campground, all of which were donated.
The 30th event planning began a year earlier. Well into the planning, it was learned that Chavez Crossing was the first Friends of the Forest maintenance project 30 years earlier, after flooding wiped the campground out. How ironic that this is where the celebration was held!
Friends of the Forest is a nonprofit, nonpolitical organization, and has remained true to its mission since inception. The membership is open to all who are dedicated to maintaining, protecting and restoring the scenic beauty of our National Forest lands in the Sedona area. Longstanding friendships continue to be formed among the volunteers who share a common purpose and passion. Members come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and this diversity is part of what helps the organization thrive.


Visit for more information. Serving Sedona, written this week by Carol Dores, Friends of the Forest, appears Wednesday in the Sedona Red Rock News.