1004320460 courtney ross.jpg
Photo by Andrew Benedetti

Trail volunteer Courtney Ross saws through a downed tree in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness.

Volunteers sought to help clear wilderness trails this summer

Willing to put in some long, hard hours working as a volunteer in some of Southern Oregon’s most beautiful wilderness areas?

Anthony Benedetti, wilderness technician for the Fremont-Winema National Forest, is seeking people to help on upcoming work parties in the Gearhart Mountain Wilderness Area from July 23 to 27 and the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area from Aug. 20 to 25. The High Desert Trail Riders Back Country Horseman will haul gear and supplies and provide a cook to support trail workers.

Members from the Northwest Youth Corps recently finished a six-week stint of trail work. Benedetti credits them for their help in clearing 3.5 miles of the Lookout Rock/Gearhart Mountain Trail, which begins between Bly and Paisley, but said there is more work to be done. On a recent reconnaissance hike through not yet cleared trail sections, he counted 561 downed trees.

“That’s a lot of work,” Benedetti said of the clean-up effort that will be needed. “And I didn’t count the small trees.”

Despite the high volume of trail-blocking trees, he’s optimistic the entire trail can be cleared with the help of volunteers to assist the Forest’s two seasonal trail workers.

“If we have a crew of six or 10, I think we’ll be able to knock out those trees.”

The plan calls for beginning east of Blue Lake, located on the Gearhart’s north side, and moving toward Gearhart Notch and past the Palisades to the Lookout Rock trailhead. With the help of the High Desert Trail Riders, camp will move daily as the trail is cleared to reduce the amount of walking from camp to the trail.

Benedetti also said the six miles from Deming Creek Trail to Boulder Springs has been cleared but fears another 500 to 1,000 fallen trees could be encountered. The Deming Creek Trail from the Gearhart Mountain Trail was rerouted years ago but has been hard to locate.

The Aug. 20-25 work party in the Sky Lakes Wilderness will focus on the Pacific Crest Trail from the Ranger Springs area north toward the boundary with Crater Lake National Park. Sections of the trail were burned in last year’s Blanket Creek fire.

Although people with trail-clearing experience are especially welcome, Benedetti said he and others will help train people in the use of crosscut saws and other “primitive tools.” (Chainsaws are not allowed in designated wildernesses.)

“Anybody willing is welcome. We’ll take all the help we can get,” he said, noting volunteers are required to complete various forms.

Benedetti noted the Fremont-Winema’s two-person trail crew, with the help of Forest Service staff and volunteers, have cleared miles of trails since April. Several sections of the Sky Lakes, Mountain Lakes and Gearhart wilderness areas have been opened, most recently 4.5 miles on the Nannie Creek Trail to the Sky/Snow Lakes junction.

Ongoing projects include clearing the “big mess” on the Cherry Creek Trail into Sky Lakes. Crews have been gathering materials to build a new bridge across a marshy area past the first creek crossing. Other completed projects include clearing the Varney Creek Trail into the Mountain Lakes Wilderness, and the North Fork Sprague River Trail to Blue Lake in the Gearhart Wilderness.

Crews from the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, along with Northwest Youth Corps, High Desert Trail Riders Back County Horseman and Klamath Trails Alliance, have worked with the Fremont-Winema two-person team.

Benedetti credits John and Karen Poole for clearing and maintaining the High Lakes Trail between Lake of the Woods and Fish Lake for 15 years, and he praised the High Desert Trail Riders, who have provided support and manpower for trail projects over the past several years.

Benedetti said the High Desert group has continued its assistance despite the death of one of its leaders, Dan Applebaker, earlier this year. “Dan really cared,” he said of Applebaker’s work to keep trails open to all backcountry users. “He was one of those people who truly wanted to make a difference.”

People interested in volunteering to work on clearing and maintaining trails in and near the Sky Lakes and Gearhart Mountain Wilderness area on the Rogue River-Siskiyou and Fremont-Winema national forests are encouraged to call Benedetti at 541-885-3440 or email abenedetti@fs.fed.us.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

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