ASHLAND — For decades, hikers looking for a little burn in their thighs have walked a makeshift trail from the Mt. Ashland Ski Area lodge to the top of the mountain, earning panoramic views for going rogue.
It's a locals thing because the trail is not only missing from Mount Ashland maps, it's a path not supported or historically acknowledged by the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest as even being there.
"It's a popular trail, and people think it's a real trail," forest spokeswoman Chamise Kramer says. "But the question always comes up, why isn't it on the map? Because it's not ours."
Just like recreational marijuana, perhaps it's time for the Mt. Ashland Trail to go legit.
The forest is proposing to stop turning a blind eye to its use, accept it for what it is and manage it for the safety of the public who are going to use it anyway.
Doing so would allow forest officials to work on the trail by fortifying its switchbacks and curbing erosion, and to literally put this 1,033-foot climb in elevation on the map for other cardio-conscious climbers to discover and appreciate.
"The goal is to make it a real trail, since it's there, anyway," Kramer says. "This is not just a winter destination. We need to enhance that, embrace that."
Forest officials are publicly floating the idea of officially creating Mount Ashland Summit Trail, No. 51938, in the National Trail System trail network.
It is one of five relatively small projects that forest planners are asking the public to weigh in on. If there's little or no pushback, forest officials can sidestep their normal study-comments-and-study-some-more process under environmental laws and adopt it on their own.
This streamlined "categorical exclusion" procedure to the normal National Environmental Policy Act rules could be signed by Siskiyou Mountain District Ranger Donna Mickley sometime after the 30-day comment period ends July 5.
Then the little trail that never showed up in the forest Christmas card can formally join the family.
"It's a known trail, and we want to start the analysis to see if we can make it official," Kramer says. "That way, we can maintain it."
This is not an approach from your father's Forest Service.
Historically, agency recreation officials loathed illegal trails and tried to remove them whenever they were roughed in by user groups unhappy with what the agency was giving them.
In recent years, however, Brian Long, the district's recreation staff officer, and others stepped away from that paradigm to address the infrastructure of official and rogue hiking and biking trails in the Ashland watershed.
Last year, some illegal trails were tweaked and rerouted out of sensitive habitats and made official, while others were abandoned and replaced by properly crafted trails.
Similarly minded projects also have occurred for mountain bikers outside of Bend and Wenatchee, Washington, Long says.
"The Forest Service has taken a little different perspective that we should engage these user groups and see if they can be accommodated," Long says. "Do we want to work with them or try to fight it?"