SKY LAKES WILDERNESS — If famished trail crews rushed back to their backcountry campsites after long days cutting and removing downed trees and brush from clogged trails in the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area, it was understandable.
Awaiting them were sumptuous meals prepared by Brenda Stewart, the camp cook from the Klamath Falls-based High Desert Trail Riders. She didn't serve dehydrated meals or cans of pork and beans. Stewart offered tantalizing helpings of grilled fresh food — flat-iron steaks, pork chops, spaghetti, chicken fettuccine and Mexican specialties along with heaps of baked potatoes, salads, corn on the cob and, for dessert, choices such as brownies and peanut butter pies.
Stewart was typically up by 5:30 each morning to prepare coffee and serve breakfast — bacon and eggs, pancakes, biscuits and gravy — by 6 or 7 so that crews could get an early start before afternoon temperatures soared.
"If it wasn't for the food I don't think we'd be so full of high spirits," said Walker Woodman, who calls Talent home but lives in Klamath Falls while attending Oregon Tech, where he's majoring in environmental science. Woodman was practically salivating after a day that included more than 12 miles of hiking while carting crosscut and hand saws he and others used to clear the Pacific Crest Trail between the Snow Lakes junction and Devils Peak to the south and Jack Springs to the north.
"We love Brenda," said a grinning Anthony Benedetti, recreation operations specialist for the Fremont-Winema National Forest, who was one of the coordinators of a week-long trail clearing effort.
"He wants to feed the crew good," nodded Stewart's husband, Ron, who helped pack the trail crew in and out of Sky Lakes and relocated the group's base camp from Ranger Spring to Grass Lake.
Benedetti knows well-fed crews are happier and work better. And, along with packing in food for dinners, breakfasts and the makings for lunch, the Trail Riders trio literally eased crew member loads by hauling their personal and trail-clearing gear on eight pack horses and mules. Ron and Jim Icenbice tended the animals. For a few days, the diners included four firefighters flown in by helicopter to douse a lightning fire that erupted 500 feet from the Ranger Spring camp. When the firefighters exited a few days later, Stewart and Icenbice packed them and their heavy gear out.
It was the fourth time Desert Trail Rider teams have assisted trail crews this summer. Two more pack team-supported outings are planned, including one in the Gearhart Mountain Wilderness and another, possibly in Sky Lakes or, depending on fires, the Mountain Lakes Wilderness.
Why do they do it?
"Because of our love of the outdoors, and for the Forest Service so they can keep the trails open for everybody," said Icenbice, a former club president who worked with Benedetti and others over the past few years to organize and coordinate this summer's pack-supported outing. "Because we're getting older, it's harder and harder for us (to clear trails). We've found pack support is something we can do."
Doing the trail work were volunteers such as Jerry Enman, a Klamath Basin farmer and Klamath Trails Alliance member who has participated in and spearheaded several trail-clearing efforts, and Linda Krawczyk of Grants Pass, a member of the Pacific Crest Trail Association. At 59, she's older than most of the crew.
"I like to volunteer. I like to work on the trail," Krawczyk said of the PCT. "And I like crosscut saws."
"We've done so much," said Kindra DeArman, a trail crew member young enough to be Krawczyk's daughter.
"It's really amazing to see different places," said Alex Brachman, another crew member who calls Atlanta, Georgia, home and has worked on trail crews in Oregon, California and Alaska.
Nodding in agreement was Calvin Hodge, a Student Conservation Association intern who's taking a year off before he starts college at the University of Oregon in 2018.
Most of the trail crew members are summer seasonals for the Fremont-Winema National Forest, while others, including Chole Ammons of Butte Falls and Whitney Roper of Prospect, are working for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. The newest member was Marie Enman of Klamath Falls, Jerry Enman's daughter who has previously volunteered with her father.
"I've done stuff with my dad," Enman said. "It's been hard, but it's so rewarding."
"It's been an adventure," Roper said. "We've seen a lot of hikers, so it's nice to run into people who benefit from our work. Working on the PCT is great, but I think the feeder trails are more interesting."
While the PCT was the focus, trail crews also worked on seldom maintained feeder trails, including the loop connecting Grass Lake with Cliff Lake and a loop trail around Devils Peak. Plans to clear the PCT from the Sevenmile Marsh/Ranger Spring trailheads to Crater Lake National Park's south boundary ended instead near Jack Spring because of the Blanket fire.
There's more to do, but Benedetti is delighted at the amount of work done.
"This has been an amazing trip," he said, noting the trail-clearing effort — about 11 or 12 miles on the PCT and another six miles on other connecting trails — was part of an effort for the Sustainable Trails Initiative, a multi-year campaign to create a sustainable trail network that protects forest habitats while enhancing recreational experiences.
"We're making that happen. We're setting an example," Benedetti said, emphasizing his appreciation for groups such as the Pacific Crest Trail Association, High Desert Trail Riders and the Klamath County Resource Advisory Council, which provided funding.
"It went really well. We got much more done in less time than I expected," Benedetti said. "I'm proud to be a part of this."
— Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at email@example.com or 541-880-4139.