By Josh Durham
South Coast Coordinator | Trailkeepers of Oregon
That’s all I could say. As Trailkeepers of Oregon’s newly appointed South Coast Stewardship Coordinator, I had made my way south. My goal was to assess the Oregon Coast Trail through the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor with Susan Schen and Brandon Tigner, our former and current North Coast Stewardship Coordinators respectively.
A native Portlander, I’m chagrined to admit I had never been farther south on the Oregon Coast than Florence. I was immediately struck by the beauty, so different from the northern coastline I grew up with. I was also immediately excited by the prospect of beginning stewardship work in such an awe-inspiring environment. Enough navel gazing, time to get to work!
Why do we assess? When developing a new relationship with a land manager, or even proposing new work with someone we have an existing relationship with, it’s important to be concise, informative, and professional. We endeavor to arrange our assessments to be easy to read, and readily impart our abilities as an organization to meet a project’s needs.
An assessment starts with a conversation with the land managers. It’s important to determine their standards for their trails. Among the things taken into consideration are the degree of expected use and the sorts of users one can expect. Standards are different for a trail open to equestrian use versus hiker only, for example. The park manager for the Sam Boardman determined that the tread width be between 24 and 36 inches, depending on our observed usage. It’s a hiker only trail, which meant the vertical clearance needed only to be eight feet.
Once we’ve determined the standards to which we need to hold our trail, we then begin what most would argue is the fun part. We hike. With our GPS apps running, our notebooks and pencils out, and our “trail eyes” open, we move purposefully down the trail, taking GPS tagged pictures and writing notes that correspond. We spend a few moments to a few minutes discussing different options and different tactics.
As an organization, we’ve adopted a “good, better, best” model, in which we offer potential mitigation tactics that a land manager can tailor to their available budget or desire for labor investment in the trail. Perhaps, as in the case of most of the Oregon Coast, there are cultural considerations concerning soil disturbance. This might lead the land manager to select a mitigation tactic that may not be the best long-term choice, but it is something that doesn’t require an archeological consideration that may delay the work indefinitely.
An example of this good/better/best model can be seen in the picture to the right. Here we have an existing curb structure holding up the tread in an area where a stream is causing erosion. An example of a good solution would be to re-install the existing curb structure. The board used currently is held in by metal posts that have sloughed down, causing the plank to move outward. It’s evident, however, that this is a short-term fix. A better solution would be to install a new crib structure, ideally an existing downed log that is longer and ties into either side of the bank. This, in addition to supporting posts, would offer a longer-term solution. The potential issue with this is that in the event of high water, such as during king tides, a curb structure still has the potential to wash out. The best solution would be to install a gabion structure (a gabion is a wire box, akin to chain link fence, that is filled with rock and buried under the tread surface) to shore up the bank and provide support for the tread. Though not immune to erosion, it is substantially more robust than a curb structure.
You can see another example of a trail issue in this picture of a muddy trail (left). This is through a flat section of land, which means there’s nowhere for the water to drain. There’s also no place to realign the trail. We’re really just left with two options here. Good: fill the wet area with two-inch minus rock. This is a very temporary fix, likely only to last until the next high water event, where the material will be washed away. Best: install a turnpike structure that will raise the level of the tread above the flat, wet area and contain the fill material to prevent it from washing away.
Seeing as our goal is to present the manager with a set of options that are as informed as possible, we take all this gathered information back to the office (or coffee shop) to craft a presentable assessment. We create a map that contains our GPS track, with pins to demarcate issues we identified. We create a table listing the various issues, their corresponding GPS coordinates and pin markers, the good/better/best mitigation options, and the length of trail affected. We include pictures of the trail troubles. This is all in succinct and easy to read documents that give the land manager the tools necessary to make a swift and informed decision. All of this allows Trailkeepers of Oregon to get volunteers on the ground, tools in hand, that much more quickly.
[EDIT: all in-person TKO activities have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Scroll to the bottom of this page to sign up for our email newsletter to receive updates when we’re able to get back out on the trails again!]
Thus an exciting new opportunity is born. Keep your eyes on the event calendar at trailkeepersoforegon.org as we start to post events in the beautiful reaches of the southern coast!
Bringing the Trail Crew to you! This is the first in 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.
Kim Kovacs is TKO’s Volunteer Coordinator. She’s also a trail crew leader; she lead a crew at Oxbow Regional Park every month last year! She’s also hosted several groups out on trails in the Gorge. As of this publication, Kim has logged 132 trail parties with TKO! We asked her a few questions about her roles in the organization.
Can you describe your work as Volunteer Coordinator?
After a back injury sidelined me for several months, I begged and pleaded with the TKO staff to give me something – anything – to do. They graciously gave me the post of volunteer Volunteer Coordinator. My “job description” has me responsible for a number of back office duties: I monitor the general volunteer email inbox, I’m generally the first point of contact when someone emails TKO asking about hosting a trail party for a specific group. I work with the other crew leaders to get their events posted in Eventbrite and I produce a weekly “Green Hat Report” which tracks how many trail parties each of our volunteers has completed. When one of our volunteers reaches their fifth trail party I put their name on a spankin’ new green hard hat so it can be awarded at their next trail party. I’m also helping to organize TKO’s crosscut sawyer program.
You are the brains behind the Family Friendly Trail Parties. How is a Family Friendly Trail Party different from a regular work party?
I love the Family Friendly trail parties! They’re different from the regular ones in that they’re geared for kids age 14 and under who might not be up for a full day working with heavy tools. They run from 9:00 to noon (so shorter than our normal 8:30 – 3:30 adult events) and focus on easier activities such as brushing back vegetation or raking leaves off the trail to keep it from getting mucky as the wet weather sets in. Rather than Mcleods or green grubbers, our volunteers mostly use loppers and rakes.
Is there one Family Friendly Trail Party in particular that you found memorable?
They’re all very special and memorable. I do remember one of my earlier efforts, though, during the rainy season. It was cold and raining very hard, and I was sure I’d have a number of cancellations. The three families who’d registered showed up, though, and it was obvious the three little girls who were there were true Oregonians. They proceeded to work in the downpour, laughing and participating and having a great time in spite of the awful weather. Their parents were real troopers, too!
What your favorite thing about being a volunteer with TKO?
I’ve really enjoyed meeting and working with all the great people who are also donating their time and energy to working on the trails. What an awesome bunch of people! Trail parties have become my primary social outlet.
Thanks for reading! We hope this helps get you inspired to join a TKO trail party once we’ve all made it through this. Take care out there!
With recent closures of all Oregon State Parks, the Columbia Gorge Waterfall Corridor and Governor Brown’s Stay Home order, TKO recognizes we are navigating challenges we have never seen before. We support the land managers who have had to make these difficult decisions to protect staff, volunteers and visitors and the communities within these special places and accordingly, we will be postponing all our in-person volunteer activities through April.
Whenever stress hits us our first thoughts are often, “I could use a walk and some time in nature!” As we all learned phrases like “flattening the curve” and “social distancing,” we thought we would consider a simple question which is turning out to be a complicated answer: Is it safe to get out on the trails these days?
At first the answer was yes — if you do it right. Our original intent this week was to share this list of basic tips to follow when hiking right now.
For now it’s NO — We want to go hiking as much as you do but now is not the time. Stay home, you may not realize the impacts that are possible. Our Oregon scenic sites will be there for you when it is safe to get back to them.
While hiking is certainly one of the safest ways to enjoy the outdoors, the risk of a misstep leading to a broken ankle, a wrong turn leading to getting lost, or getting into a car accident on the way to the trailhead are still that – risks. Risks that take up hospital beds and valuable resources from first responders, even in populated areas like Portland
In addition to a lack of medical services, rural communities are also facing potential shortages of other essentials like food. While we always encourage supporting local economies when recreating, for now we are recommending that you stay home and leave those supplies for the people who live there.
Meanwhile, we will be supporting our community however we can. Read on for some of our recommendations on how to stay in touch with your outdoorsy side while staying inside!
Remember when you were a kid and could spend hours playing in one patch of dirt in your backyard? Let’s try and reconnect to that capacity for small wonders.
Keep Up With The Latest
Here are some links to keep up with the latest in the world of hiking and trails:
Remember, We Are All In This Together!