Before retiring I had no plans to be an active volunteer. After a career in IT that concluded with a role as a Project Manager, all I wanted to do was de-stress and relax. For two years I was quite successful in this new vocation – doing as little as possible. I caught up on 12 seasons of NCIS along with a host of other TV shows, puttered around the house, and worked on my home cooking skills (or lack thereof).

But my wife and I also enjoyed the spectacular hiking that Sedona has to offer: Boynton Canyon, Fay Canyon, and the West Fork of Oak Creek were particular favorites of ours. We visited the world-class cultural resources in the area: the cliff dwellings and pictographs at Palatki and Honanki, the amazing petroglyphs at V-Bar-V, the reconstructed Tuzigoot pueblo, and Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well.

We also traveled by car in the 4 corners area and made a point to stop at other important sites where we learned about the richness and complexity of Native American cultures. Near Flagstaff, we visited Walnut Canyon and Wupatki. Further out were the petroglyphs and pictographs in the Moab Utah area, the grandeur of Chaco Canyon and Monument Valley, and Petroglyph National Monument.

I began to appreciate how little I knew about the Sinagua culture that flourished right here in our area and near Flagstaff a thousand years ago. It finally dawned on me that if I joined the team of Friends of the Forest docents who help introduce the Sinagua culture to visitors at Palatki and V-Bar-V, I would have to do my homework. Becoming a docent was my way of entering the world of volunteers and beginning to contribute back to the community.

Even though the pandemic has halted much of the volunteer group work in Sedona, there are still ample opportunities for Friends of the Forest members to stay active. Individual members or couples who live together continue to volunteer their time: removing the graffiti that plagues Red Rock Country, conducting projects coordinated by the District Wildlife Biologist, and patrolling our trails. A group recently formed to create educational videos to post on the web, and limited photo documentation has taken place.

In fact, the Friends of the Forest Photo Documentation Team recently received a Keep Sedona Beautiful Award of Excellence for Cultural Resources for their work, which is gaining national and international attention. Although most of the documentation work in the Forest has been delayed or postponed due to COVID restrictions, computer-based interpretation of photo imagery already in hand continues for the ongoing Dust Impact Study at the Heritage Sites, and for a potentially groundbreaking study to evaluate petroglyph scratchings left by Paleolithic thru protohistoric cultures ranging possibly from 13,000 to 500 years ago. Archeologists have known for some time that nomadic people hunted animals like mammoth in the Verde Valley, having found Clovis points that date from that time, along with mammoth bones.

Even with the pause in most activities, Friends of the Forest Volunteers contributed almost 30,000 hours of effort to the Red Rock District in Fiscal Year 2020.

Friends of the Forest typically holds a new member event this time of year to let residents know of all the volunteer opportunities available. This year an in-person event is out of the question. Instead, we suggest that you visit

On the Activities Page, you’ll learn about each of the volunteer groups. Trail Patrol members hike our trails, interact with visitors and reports any trail issues. Hard labor keeping our trails in shape is done by the Trail Maintenance & Construction crew. The Red Rock Visitor Center is staffed by Friends of the Forest Volunteers who greet visitors and answer questions.
Docents at the Palatki and V-Bar-V Heritage Sites as well as the photo documentation team work under the umbrella of Cultural Resources & Protection.

Volunteers sample the air at Fossil Creek and the water in Oak Creek. River Rangers support Forest Service employees who monitor health of the Verde River. Graffiti is removed by a dedicated group of volunteers. Events at the Visitor Center and elsewhere are organized by the Interpretive & Educational Programs group. Wildlife projects of all sorts are conducted Friends of the Forest citizen scientists.

In short, there’s something for nearly everyone – even a reformed couch potato like me who found renewed purpose by volunteering with Friends of the Forest.

Author – Craig Swanson