Southwest Oregon—In partnership with the Bureau of Land Management’s Medford District, the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest recently held an open house to bring trail users of all walks (and rides) together to learn and listen. The two agencies hope to gain a better understanding of what trails are important to users, what trails the agencies are getting help maintaining that they may not have been previously aware of, and where the agencies may need to focus energy to resolve resource or safety issues along a trail.
More than 100 people attended the Medford open house on May 3, 2018. Many represented organized user groups, while many others were simply interested trail users hoping to share and learn more. Julie Martin, the Recreation Program Manager for the RRSNF, said, “It was inspiring to see groups that are typically at odds reaching out and having conversations to work through the traditional user conflicts and more. They were setting up work days with those other groups to clear trails so that all can benefit! This is really the intent and focus of the efforts as the agencies move forward to accomplish the larger goals of trail maintenance across southwest Oregon.”
As agencies continue to wrestle with downsizing, it becomes increasingly important to reach out to partners and volunteers to accomplish the trail maintenance necessary to keep trails open and safe. The National Trails Stewardship Act of 2016 recognizes this need nationally and calls on the Forest Service to more actively engage with community partners in not only helping to maintain trails, but to be leaders in a model of shared stewardship moving towards a system of sustainable trails.
The RRSNF and BLM have a long history of working with partners and volunteers to maintain trails in the southwest Oregon region. Several local groups have historically assisted with trail maintenance on public lands. “We want to pull these groups and their energy together to create a collaborative working group that, with the agencies, can guide efforts into the future,” says Martin. This may include:
- Working with the agencies to determine priorities for trail maintenance and determining where to focus limited funding;
- Leveraging various partner group funding with others to multiply the funding available;
- Working with others to resolve user conflicts and promoting trail safety;
- Building skills for present and future trail stewards; and
- Reporting trail conditions and opportunities.
The joint-agency Medford meeting followed an RRSNF-hosted open house in Gold Beach in April that attracted approximately 30 people. Like the Medford meeting, that group was comprised of both trail users and those interested in trail maintenance.
The information gained at the open houses will help inform the discussions about developing a sustainable trails strategy for our area that addresses social, ecological, and economic considerations.
The RRSNF typically manages their trail program on limited funds made up of appropriated funding and grants—thus the need to reach out to partners and volunteers. On occasion, funding is awarded after catastrophic events when significant resources are lost or damaged. This year, the RRSNF was awarded funding to restore the trails that were lost or damaged in the fires that occurred last year across the Forest. These funds will be primarily re-invested back into the communities, through local partner groups and their volunteers, to bring the trails back into safe and usable conditions. Trails that sustained significant impacts were in the Kalmiopsis, Red Buttes, and Sky Lakes Wilderness Areas. The RRSNF is looking forward to working with groups such as the Siskiyou Mountain Club, the Pacific Crest Trail Association, Southern Oregon Trail Alliance, Northwest Youth Corps, and the Student Conservation Association to provide crews and volunteers to remove downed logs, do brushing work, and improve trail beds.
The RRSNF has long partnered with the Siskiyou Mountain Club, providing funding, tools, and training. This partnership has provided opportunities for SMC to also leverage funding from other sources for their growing organization, which hires crews and provides local youth/young adults and others invaluable work and growth experiences. This year, the Siskiyou Mountain Club will receive nearly $150,000 from the RRSNF to maintain trails in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and other priority areas over a period of 5 years, ensuring the resiliency of the trail systems and maintaining access.
All of this trail work does require training and consistent skillsets! In an effort to begin to build those skillsets for our volunteers, the RRSNF will be working with a local provider to host a trails skills. The training will teach participants the requirements needed to maintain a trail to its designed standard, including brushing for appropriate trail widths, drainage and drain dips, installing and maintaining waterbars, and much more.