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Bandersnatch builders

When the Ashland Woodlands and Trails Association put out the call for volunteers to help build a new trail last Saturday, they secretly hoped they'd get a large turnout of 30 or more.

They were way off.

"It was way beyond our wildest imagination," says Rob Cain, president of the AWTA.

The final tally was 71 strong, ranging in age from 15 to 76. Their assignment: begin constructing the first new trail between Lithia Park and Mount Ashland as part of a broader vision for the trails system.

This vision is spelled out in the "Ashland Woodlands Master Trails Plan," a document prepared by the AWTA for the U.S. Forest Service to approve nearly 20 miles of existing unauthorized trails and 14 miles of new trails.

Though implementation of that plan will depend on the outcome of an environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act, the new trail constructed Saturday is on land owned by the city of Ashland and has been approved by the city's Forest Lands Commission.

In a mere two-and-a-half hours, the battalion of volunteers completed a half-mile of the planned 11/4-mile trail.

"Although we finished a bit less than half of the total mileage, we finished the hardest part," says Cain. "We should be able to finish it on our second volunteer day on April 7."

Managing that many volunteers is a challenge in itself.

Cain and other AWTA board members split the volunteers into teams. In each team, a group armed with clippers, Pulaskis and McClouds cleared away vegetation and roots. They were followed by others armed with shovels and Hazel hoes to cut into the hillside and sculpt the trail as it wound up the steep slope. As each team finished, they leapfrogged ahead of other groups to work on the next section. The bed of the trail was downsloped to shed water easily and avoid the need for waterbars or other erosion-control features.

The new footpath, named the Bandersnatch Trail, will be for pedestrians and equestrians only. It parallels the steep BTI trail, a favorite of mountain bikers, which will become a bicycle-only trail.

"I like the idea of some segregation from the safety standpoint," says Bill Rousell, AWTA board member and mountain biker. "You don't have to worry about me coming by at 20 miles per hour over a double where you can't see me, and I may not worry about trying to fly off the edge of the trail trying not to hit you."

Rousell, owner of Ashland Mountain Adventures, was joined by several other mountain bikers on the trail project Saturday.

"When you've got three times as many cars as you expected when you first built that series of roads, you've got to do something about it in the future to handle the congestion," Rousell explains. "It's pretty obvious that we're all willing to get along, we're all wanting to be outside and have a good time."

For equestrians, the consequences of meeting a mountain bike on a trail will depend on the experience of the horse, something the biker can't possibly know in advance.

"Having a safe way to go up and enter (the Ashland watershed) without having the bikes come down is so vital to us," says Joy Olson, a Talent resident. "This new trail allows us to get to a series of other trails without bikes so we can ride safely and train young, inexperienced horses or take kids."

For many riders, the Ashland watershed trails provide the best winter riding, because higher-elevation trails are snowed under.

"This is my favorite place to ride most of the year, so I'm thrilled that we're working to make a trail available that allows us to ride here eight months out of the year," says Trish Boersma, an Ashland horse rider.

The AWTA relied mainly on its website, email and Facebook to spread the word about the trail-work day. Perhaps the best outreach, though, was an old-school technique.

"They put up a sign on a bulletin board in our Advisory class," says Leah Coon, one of eight Ashland High School students who showed up to cut trail. "It's fun, and it's good that we're doing something for the community."

The new trail's name, "Bandersnatch," comes from the make-believe creature in Lewis Carroll's poem, "Jaberwocky."

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

the frumious Bandersnatch!"

Other trail names in the watershed — including "White Rabbit" and "Alice in Wonderland" — are taken from Lewis Carroll's writings.

The narrator in the magical "Jabberwocky" warns his son to "shun the frumious Bandersnatch" in his quest to slay the Jabberwock. In the quest to create the Bandersnatch Trail, 71 people turned a series of yellow flags on a hillside into a half-mile trail.

Now that's real magic.

Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. You can reach him at dnewberry@jeffnet.org

David Conley, front, and James Holmes were among the 71 volunteers who helped build the new Bandersnatch Trail trail Saturday near Lithia Park. - Photos by Andy Atkinson