By Steve Kruger, Executive Director, Trailkeepers of Oregon
Before the end of 2018, please consider doing the following three things:
There’s no doubt — Trailkeepers of Oregon (TKO) is on the rise. Word of our mission and dedication to the Oregon hiking experience has traveled fast, due in no small part to all of you, our supporters and volunteers.
I’m endlessly inspired by and grateful for everything you do for Oregon’s hiking community and infrastructure. You deserve to be congratulated. I’m proud to help facilitate an outdoor movement in Oregon through our work.
I’m confident that 2018 will be remembered as the year in which TKO stepped up for the Columbia River Gorge, building back trails faster and better than ever before. Before the Eagle Creek fire, we had a list of nearly 800 members and volunteers. After the fire swept through some of the most accessible, scenic sites Oregon has to offer, our commitment to becoming reliable caretakers and rebuilders in the Gorge helped grow that list to over 5,000. The fire inspired a movement. People’s passion for the renewal of that exquisite place was expressed through a huge lift in stewardship activities and an excitement to do more.
By year’s end we will have hosted over 250 trail parties (nearly a 3x increase from 2017) along with a few dozen training and outreach events. We will have reached nearly 2,500 volunteers. Their contributions equate to $378,324 worth of in-kind trail service. The Gorge was our focus, but our reach extended across Oregon — from the Eagle Cap Wilderness to the Oregon Coast, down south to Bend. Never before have I witnessed such inspired dedication and passion of volunteers and advocates for trails.
Make no mistake, our work in the Gorge isn’t nearly complete. Given the fragility of the landscape, the slow recovery and daily changes that are a natural part of its full restoration, we will see intermittent damage and more-than-usual maintenance challenges. With nearly 30+ crew leaders in our leadership pipeline, we’re not going anywhere and are planning to respond thoughtfully to anything that comes this winter and the decades to come. We are taking great care to monitor conditions on trails at Angel’s Rest, Wahkeena Falls and Multnomah Falls – trails that just opened in this area and we have already had reports of new issues to clean up. And for the trails not open yet, we’ll continue to work safely with our partners to see them brought back to you.
Elsewhere we’re seeing the effects of displaced hikers increasingly hitting local trails in Portland, around Mt. Hood and the Coast. In 2019 we’ll challenge ourselves to take on more stewardship work in new areas, all the while we will drum a beat where we always have.
Trail systems around Mt. Hood, in particular, are in desperate need of support from TKO. We established a small but impactful presence over the area during our time as a nonprofit, and it’s time to demonstrate more consistency in our stewardship there. Expect TKO to host trail parties within Hood River, Zigzag and Clackamas Ranger Districts over the coming spring and summer. We plan to show these treasured mountain landscapes some major love, and to help reconnect visitors with new places in the Forest too.
TKO will also be heading to the Oregon Coast Trail (OCT) and its connective trail systems, where we’re eager to jumpstart a movement of stewardship. We’re already networking with local trail advocates, assessing trail priorities with land managers and building a stewardship thread through the north coast and beyond. We are in talks with Oregon State Parks staff to host regular stewardship of trails between Ecola State Park, down south through trails at Oswald West, Cape Meares and Cape Lookout. We are also pleased to announce that a new section of OCT will be developed in the next many months between the South Neahkahnie Mountain Trailhead and the city of Manzanita. In partnership with the Lower Nehalem Community Trust who owns the newly acquired lands, we are stepping in as a partner to provide care in the design, build and maintenance that solves a <2 mile gap, one of many gaps in the OCT. Then heading even further south, we are working towards support at Cascade Head and the section of OCT with the USDA Forest Service. Armed with a new staffer we brought on in August, we’ve started in on these projects and we are confident that 2019 will bring new funding opportunities for the long-term capacity building that TKO needs to set our boots in the sand for good.
Meanwhile, we’ve started to implement training programs to relieve a deficit in skilled staff and volunteers around trail building and maintenance skills. Partners from across the state are seeking our help in trail skill building and we have found our training “schools” to be a great way to reach across the state and explore where we can make an impact in new places we haven’t put tools to trail in the past. I’m happy to share that a TKO Tread School will return in May 2019 to Mt. Hood’s Zigzag Ranger District, inspiring our volunteers to learn new skills on trails in need. Don’t be surprised if we pop up for reach projects and training weekends far and wide across other parts of Oregon.
Our ambitions are high, but cultivating trail stewardship is and must be a steady and slow growth. Barriers like recruiting and training skilled, localized volunteer leaders take time and staff to overcome – a building of organizational capacity to keep it moving forward. The entire state needs more trail support, and we can only provide it through transformational change, one community at a time. Our commitment to these goals is steadfast, and we firmly believe that the seeds of interest in giving back to nature that we plant around Oregon will grow into something pure, permanent and beautiful.
See you out on the trail,
Steve Kruger, Executive Director