By Chip Andrus, Volunteer Crew Leader, Trailkeepers of Oregon Here we are, six volunteers with TKO, in August, trying to bring a neglected trail back to life. Built by a miner over a century ago, the Falls Creek…
by Loren Payne
Opportunities to serve Oregon’s trails with Trailkeepers of Oregon are as diverse as our volunteers’ interests. This year, TKO launched a new Wilderness Ambassador volunteer program in collaboration with the US Forest Service to further our mission of stewardship and advocacy for Oregon’s trails. These wilderness volunteers use their knowledge of Leave No Trace, trail stewardship, and hiking etiquette to help everyone have a better experience on the trails in the beloved Mt. Hood Wilderness.
In its first year as a Trailkeepers program, the Wilderness Ambassadors already made quite the impact. This year’s cohort of nine Wilderness Ambassadors set out on over 5 different trail to gather data and help trail users be active stewards. Across the course of more than fifteen different hikes on Mt Hood’s most popular wilderness trails, trash was removed, inappropriate fire rings were dismantled, and important connections were made with trail users all throughout the season.
Cheryl Hill, long-time TKO volunteer and author of Fire Lookouts of Oregon, recounts a story of kindness and camaraderie at the trail when a visitor with a dog discovered they had forgotten their leash at home and were still able to enjoy their hike thanks to the generosity of another dog owner (and complete stranger!) who had a spare to lend.
Cheryl also remembered a teachable moment with a younger hiker. “At the Mirror Lake Trailhead in June there was a kid who was chatting excitedly about Yellowstone and asked me ‘Did you know Yellowstone has a volcano?’ I said I did, and then I asked him ‘Did you know that Mt. Hood is also a volcano?’ No, he did not. His eyes got big as he turned and looked at the mountain rising from the trees across the highway and I gave him a very brief geologic lesson on Mt. Hood.”
Another Wilderness Ambassador, John Ruehle, remembers the hilarity of watching a pair of hikers attempt to navigate the Sandy River crossing on the Ramona Falls Trail while being thwarted by their energetic and mischievous dog doing soaking wet laps around their ankles.
While on one of his training hike, new Wilderness volunteer Julian Rodriguez met a sibling duo who had gotten together to hike the Timberline Trail for the first time since the early 90’s. The pair described how they had only seen five people in the five days they spent on the trail during that first excursion. It would be hard to imagine such an empty Timberline Trail now!
As the 2022 season winds down, we at TKO are feeling incredibly grateful for our volunteers, partner agencies, and the public for their willingness to support Oregon’s trails through TKO’s programs. Stay tuned for more Wilderness Ambassador training opportunities in the spring. We can’t wait to see new and familiar faces on the trails in 2023!
If you’re interested in learning more about this program or want to become a Wilderness Ambassador yourself, check out the program’s home page by clicking the link below.