Bringing the Trail Crew to you! This is a continuation of our “Interview with a Volunteer” series that we’ll be using to bring the fun of being a Trailkeeper to you while you stay safe at home. […]
A wildfire nearly a decade ago killed trees in a wide swath across the north slope of Mt. Hood. The fire was intense, leaving only a few islands of live trees. The Pinnacle Ridge trail and its more popular cousin, the Elk Cove trail, climb steeply through the burn and provide a northern connection to the Timberline trail, the trail which circumnavigates the mountain. This all connects to the west on Vista Ridge, a place that inspired our founders to build a nonprofit for trails in 2008 – fighting to revive a lost trail and the scenic site of Owl Point!
Predictably, the trees killed in the fire are rotting and toppling into the two trails at an accelerated rate. Hundreds of logs were bucked out by Forest Service in 2019 along Pinnacle Ridge and Elk Cove, as TKO bucked out over 50 trees from Vista Ridge. Many more will follow. Also predictably, the influx of sunlight has caused brush to grow aggressively to the point of crowding the trail. In places it is now hard to even see the trail.
Starting in 2020, TKO will informally adopt these trails and help keep them cleared. We will assist the Forest Service in cutting logs out of the trail, when needed, and lead the charge to aggressively cut back the brush.
The Eagle Cap Wilderness in far northeast Oregon is perhaps the most rugged and beautiful hiking destination in the West. Outside of the popular Lakes Basin area in the center of the wilderness, trail use is sparse and opportunities for solitude abundant.
Recent budget cuts have crippled trail maintenance and a backlog has increasingly fallen on the shoulders of volunteer groups. The local Wallowa Mountains Hells County Trails Association is one of those groups. For the last two summers, Trailkeepers of Oregon has been another.
TKO has taken on some of the most scenic and sparsely used trails in the wilderness. These are short trails into the high country that make for good day hikes or overnighters. For a week at a stretch, the TKO crews have widened sketchy sections of trail, cut out fallen trees, cut back the brush, built water drainage features and constructed structures through wet areas, all while backcountry camping in some of the most beautiful alpine meadows. Horse packing support by the Forest Service has made for a comfortable camp experience.
TKO will be coming back to the Eagle Cap Wilderness in 2020 for two week-long trail parties in August, most likely the first and third weeks. Notices for the trips will likely be posted by late spring on the TKO website.
For more than 10 years, TKO led through stewardship to see that Old Vista Ridge trail be brought back to the Mount Hood National Forest trail system. In 2018, we celebrated that effort with new trail signs and a ribbon cutting ceremony with our Forest Service staff partners. We now hold annual events along this trail and will be gathering a large push of trail stewardship in this brilliant place, only 1.5-hours from Portland.
If variety is the spice of life then the Echo Lake trail serves up quite the dish. Starting in the meadows bordering Hurricane Creek, the trail climbs well-mannered through dense conifer forest, clamors up a rocky ridge at an impossibly steep gradient, winds gently through a lush alpine valley of grass and shrubs, and ends up on the glacier-carved shores of Echo Lake. And yes, you can hear your voice echo off the steep cliffs surrounding the lake. The trail’s varied maintenance issues required use of most of our bag of tricks. Buck out the logs, cut back the brush, create water drainage features, fortify wet areas with rock, and toss to the side the boulders and cobbles.
The Goat Creek trail hasn’t been used in years, a result of the hundreds of logs that have fallen across it. How do you bring such a trail back to life? One log at a time, starting from the bottom. Upon cutting out the two-hundredth log we found ourselves at the top of Huckleberry Mountain ridge looking out upon pristine alpine meadows. A full-on lightning storm was just icing on the cake.
The Falls Creek trail starts near the Hurricane Creek trailhead and eventually tracks to Legore Lake, Oregon’s highest. Along the way it traverses a steep hillside bog that once left hikers in shin-deep mud. We fixed that and now a rock causeway keeps the boots dry and ready for your scramble up to the 9000-foot-high lake. Or you could stop at 8000 feet and make the old mining camp and adjacent meadow a destination. Either way, your first few miles of the trail will be made easier by our work to widen the trail at the skinny sections, rebuild the trail where it had slid down the hillside, and cut back the encroaching brush.
After four years and more than 30 work parties, TKO volunteers have completed a brand new trail network that explores a beautiful new county park at the confluence of the east and west forks of the Hood River. The centerpiece of the new park is Punchbowl Falls, but there is much more to see here, including bald eagles and river otters! Spring and fall are especially beautiful seasons, but the park is open year-round. You can find more information in our Oregon Hikers Field Guide.
By Tom Kloster
After the Eagle Creek Fire in September 2017, I know I was not alone in
sorting through photos and trip reports from before the fire. While it has
taken time for all of us to absorb the changes the fire brought to the Gorge,
seeing old photos of our favorite places from years passed was a needed
I am deeply concerned about what is happening to our Oregon State Parks with reductions in operational staff and the possible layoffs of critical support within the agency’s ranks. We are concerned this is a preview of what is going to happen across all public lands. All federal, state and local lands are scrambling to catch up on season staff changes while managing new normals in visitor safety — all in a time of re-opening public lands and the looming realities of shrinking budgets. Oregon’s citizenry can help, if we make it a priority.