Trails: Time to Give Back

Summer is most certainly coming to an end in Oregon, and while the days are getting shorter, we are still inundated with smoke from more wildfires than I can count. Oregon is burning, so I’m heading south for an upcoming hike. Stay tuned for more details soon. Blogging will happen, photos will be taken, but I plan to give myself the gift of unplugging from the internets (or 4G) during the hike…posts will come after a short delay.

Even though I haven’t been able to stretch my legs on any long hikes this year, I have been immersed in the land of trail work.

Part of my job as the Oregon Desert Trail Coordinator this year was to lead some trail work trips. It’s so satisfying to maintain trails, especially when they are as overgrown and neglected as some of the ones along the ODT.

But I thought the ODT is a route, not a trail…

Yes, you would be correct, but of the 750 miles (actually current count is 753.5 miles), 11% is along existing trail. These are trails our federal agency partners haven’t been able to work on in many years due to a myriad of reasons, including lack of funding and use. This leads to a vicious cycle of hikers not hiking the trails because they aren’t maintained, and trails aren’t maintained because hikers aren’t hiking them…

SO, we are harnessing the incredible hard working volunteer manpower to make a dent in some of that maintenance (last year over 500 ONDA volunteers contributed almost 10,000 hours to a variety of stewardship projects including riparian restoration and animal monitoring activities, WOW!). A lot of my work last year involved establishing relationships with the four different BLM Districts and two different National Forests that manage land along the Oregon Desert Trail in eastern Oregon, and this year I worked with those partners to develop four trips.

I’m incredibly proud of my volunteers and the work we did. It had been a full 10 years since I led trail crews around Colorado for the Southwest Conservation Corps, but the memories came flooding back as I swung the Pulaski and built berms along the drain dips with my crews. Trailwork!

A few numbers: 45 volunteers came out for 810 hours of work, and we:

• Built 2 miles of new trail in the Oregon Badlands Wilderness, and transformed a .4 mile cross-country section into trail on the ODT. (See photos here)
• Cleared 11 miles of downed trees from the Fremont National Recreation Trail and ODT corridor, and maintained 3 miles of trail. (See photos here)
• Cleared all the downed trees from the Big Indian Gorge Trail in the Steens Mountain Wilderness (by hand), and brushed over 2 miles of heavily overgrown trail. (See photos here)
• Built a .5 mile high water alternate to the Blitzen River Trail out of Page Springs Campground in the Steens Mountain Wilderness. (See photos here)

I will continue with the work in 2018…there is so much to do! Are you interested in joining me on one of the trips? Some are backpacking based, some are car-camping based. We were packed in by a BLM horse team on one trip, and might even provide some chain-saw training opportunities for another…lots to help with. The ONDA stewardship trips get announced in mid February each year, so I’ll keep you posted here on when those go live, I’d love to have you join me on a trip or two!

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Oregon Desert Trail

Oregon Desert Trail

I have an exciting development to share with you all…I’ve accepted a position as the Oregon Desert Trail Coordinator here in Bend! The 800 mile Oregon Desert Trail is one of the newest long distance trails in the country, and begins right outside of Bend  and connects a series of remote mountain ranges in the high desert of south eastern Oregon.

This is an incredible opportunity to combine everything I love doing to help shape a long trail. Ever since my friend Sage Clegg was the first to hike the ODT in 2013, I have watched with envy as other friends and hikers jump on the trail. Before I even heard about the new position I wanted to hike the ODT next. It’s exciting to be on the other side of the trail community and really be able to dive into something I am passionate about.

It will be fun to keep this blog going and share my experiences on the other side of the hike, and yes, take you with me as I hike it as well.