Hope Robertson walks deftly down a deer trail through large swaths of madrones along the steep slopes of a forested ridge outside Jacksonville, looking up occasionally at a vast panorama that draws into view Woodrat Mountain, Dutchman Peak and everything in between.
Robertson and fellow Siskiyou Upland Trails Association trail-o-phile Duane Mallams are sniffing out what could one day become the next leg of a 50-mile series of trails linking Jacksonville and Ashland, and blacktail hooves are pointing their way.
“Often deer paths give you a good idea of what direction you need to go,” Robertson says.
Mallams affixes a white flag to a ceanothus bush, signaling that this 6-inch-wide trail with its out-of-this-world view could one day become a staple of the Jack-Ash Trail.
Fresh off building the first 15 miles of the route last fall, SUTA is embarking on the long trek to build the next stretch of Jack-Ash, but with more than just a pathway for hikers, trail runners and others to venture.
They’re talking about connections to other trails, particularly the new East Applegate Ridge Trail, known as East ART, as well as the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail that SUTA earlier helped dust off and offer to the hiking public.
And they’re thinking lollipops, the popular moniker for loop trails that start and end at the same trailhead and resemble lollipops on sticks when traced on maps.
Creating a series of lollipop trails around such destinations as Bald Mountain would allow smaller hikes of 3, 5 or even 10 miles that would open Jack-Ash to more than just gonzo runners and hikers traversing distances average adventurers wouldn’t consider.
“Hikers are always interested in lollipops, in loops,” Robertson says. “They’ll create a bunch of smaller hikes so people can go a few miles instead of all 50.”
But don’t expect to get to the tootsie-roll center any time soon.
Robertson says SUTA will be working their collective Jack-Ash’s off for perhaps a decade before the general public will get a boot on these former deer trails along this ridge off Griffin Lane.
“It’s going to be multiple years before we get this done,” Robertson says. “And at $10,000 a mile, you’re not just running out and building 50 miles of trail.”
The overarching vision is to link East ART, the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail and a combination of old Bureau of Land Management forest roads and other trail spurs that eventually will link the Jacksonville Woodlands trails all the way to Wagner Gap and tie in with trails through the Ashland Watershed right down to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s front door.
The first phase completed last year included 4.7 miles of new trail and cost about $50,000, of which $37,000 went toward a professional trail-building crew.
Like last year’s Phase I, Jack-Ash’s Phase II started in Mallams’ living room.
Armed with a bow compass and a detailed topographical map, Mallams traces several possible routes through an area, carefully trying to create rough routes that don’t contain stretches steeper than an 8 percent grade.
Then Mallams and Robertson hit that rough route on foot, using white flags as general markers and a clinometer to ground-truth the grade percentage.
That rough route goes through a formal environmental assessment to ensure it does not conflict with rare plants, threatened northern spotted owls, cultural resources and other values that must be considered for projects on federal lands.
The fully vetted final rough cut eventually gives way to Robertson and Mallams using red flags as close as 5 feet apart to detail the exact pathway for crews to cut in the trail.
The next phase eventually will tap into the East ART, completed last year by the Applegate Trails Association, whose leaders envision a trail system linking Jacksonville to the Cathedral Hills trail system near Grants Pass.
Like Jack-Ash, East ART is a ridge trail that offers eye-popping views that visitors could enjoy with a seamless transition.
“The connection to East ART is the most important, in my mind,” Robertson says. “Connections make all the trails more valuable.”