We see them every day in all their spectacular glory, rising majestically from the desert floor to the heavens. Beautiful mountain ranges surround our beautiful valley. They are breathtaking and iconic and attract visitors from around the world, inspiring outdoor enthusiasts, conservationists, adventurers, artists and dreamers.
Those of us who live here are blessed with these glorious backdrops not just to gaze upon, but to hike, explore, and discover treasures. But who watches and maintains some of their most important and accessible trails?
Since 1987, the Desert Mountain Friends have maintained and monitored many popular areas located just a few miles off Highway 74 in Palm Desert. The non-profit organization was formed by a group of concerned citizens who were determined to help protect the conservation land resources of the Coachella Valley.
With offices located next to the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains above downtown El Paseo, the many “Friends” gather at the National Monument Visitor Center with rakes and shovels and hit the trails to maintain and protect the conditions of the many hiking areas.
Thanks to their efforts, there are many hiking options with varying degrees of difficulty. From the most difficult trails dedicated to experienced hikers, to a beautifully created short trail modified and made accessible to wheelchairs, walkers and strollers, all are supervised and maintained by the passionate volunteers of the Friends of the Desert Mountain like Gordon Fidlera retired chef who discovered this passion for the outdoors eight years ago.
“I was a chef at Rancho Mirage for 20 years, and when I retired I wanted to stay in the desert and still be active and productive,” Fidler said.
Productive indeed. Tammy Martinthe organization’s executive director, told us that “Gordon is a great volunteer. He has worked tirelessly on these trails for over 1,000 hours each year for the past eight years. He knows so much about the history of these mountains and really enjoys being a part of our Friends of the Desert Mountain family. We are very grateful for his incredible contributions.
Fidler showed us around the awesome wheelchair accessible paved trail. He shared the importance of history and knowledge of our environment.
“We receive many visits from school groups and young people,” he said. “They are always keen to learn more about the local vegetation fauna and fun facts about this area.”
He says the education of our young people is crucial, but it was equally important to him to adapt a trail to make it safe for visitors with physical challenges.
“I’m proud that our nonprofit was able to widen and pave the way for one of the short trails so that guests of all skill levels can access it,” he said. “Now wheelchair walkers and even strollers can easily navigate the trail and take in all the beauty of this area. We had to level the ground to make it even and easier for those who might have difficulty to walk on uneven surfaces. It’s safe and perfect for our seniors – and even toddlers who have just walked – to explore.”
According to Martin, “Every Tuesday of the season, Gordon and his group of trailhead volunteers pack pickaxes, shovels and cans of spray paint to maintain more than 300 miles of Coachella Valley trails. This team takes care of repairing eroded trails, creating safer paths and even covering up unwanted graffiti.It’s such important work, and we so appreciate Gordon and these volunteers.
In addition to the trails, Fidler also helps Friends keep tabs on the nearly 20,000 acres of conserved land still maintained by the nonprofit organization. He and other volunteers drive to remote properties and scour the perimeters, scouring the sandy rock land for illegal dumps and fire hazards, and they document any signs of encroachment.
All this tireless work is crucial for our community, so it is for this enormous influence that we award the Friends of the Desert Mountains our $1,000 grant from the Jordan Schnitzer Power of Community Family Foundation on behalf of Fidler so they can continue their great work in the mountains of our beautiful valley.
“If you’re ever hiking in the Coachella Valley and meet Gordon, smile at him and thank him for all the work he does,” Martin said. “We are all very indebted to his passionate commitment to our trails. And thanks to his great work and that of the other volunteers, we can safely say: Happy trails, Coachella Valley!”
To learn more about Friends of the Desert Mountains or to volunteer or donate, visit desertmountains.org.
Sandie Newton is an award-winning journalist who began her career in Los Angeles as the co-host of the nationally syndicated show “PM Magazine.” She went on to host numerous local and national shows like “Hollywood Insider” before becoming one of the original anchors of E! and a regular on Hallmark Channel’s “Home & Family.” In 2017, she moved to the wilderness full-time, creating and hosting NBCares for over six years, profiling over 300 Valley nonprofits. She is currently the host of “Desert Chat,” a new half-hour lifestyle show highlighting all the good people, events and news in the Coachella Valley, which will debut in September on KESQ and Fox 11.