Scouting the high ground

    Josh Weber lifts his daughter Lorang Williams, 4, of Ashland, in a meadow Tuesday off the Sundown Trail overlooking the Applegate Valley. Weber and hiking friend Luke Ruediger plan to hike from Grants Pass to Ashlandthis month. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

    APPLEGATE — Luke Ruediger hikes up a trail off the end of Forest Creek Road to a majestic field of spring wildflowers, and off in the distance is rugged Wellington Butte and the site of one Ruediger's new wild hairs.

    In two weeks, he and hiking pal Josh Weber will pick their way through the rugged brush as they cross the untrailed Wellington Butte in hopes that one day other hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians can follow their footsteps in relative ease.

    The pair will trace the 80-mile route proposed for two new nonmotorized trails linking Grants Pass and Ashland via Jacksonville, looking get the lay of the land and the challenges ahead for the proposed Jack-Ash and Applegate Ridge trails envisioned to link these communities.

    "It's a big scouting mission," says Ruediger, who along with Weber are board members of the Applegate Trails Association, which joins the Siskiyou Uplands Trails Association in spearheading effort.

    "We're just getting out walking to see what's there," Weber says.

    The pair also plan to show others what's out there by filming a short documentary of their expected five-day journey to help sell the proposals to the public as well as managers of the public lands the trails will cross.

    "It's something tangible for them to see for themselves what the trail can provide for them and provide to these communities," says Ruediger, 37, of the Applegate Valley.

    "That's really what we'd like to do, something that serves the community like the Bear Creek Greenway does, but instead of following the creek bed, it would be following high ridge lines," Ruediger says.

    The ATA is in the midst of an Internet fundraiser to gather the $6,000 targeted for the documentary as well as provide donor gifts to celebrate the effort. Their fundraising page can be found at

    SUTA is working on the Jack-Ash Trail, which would link Jacksonville to Ashland, while ATA is tackling the Applegate Ridge Trail from Jacksonville to Grants Pass. Both would have multiple access points, making them prime spots for day-hikers tackling a single section at a time or a local bucket-list through-hike, like a mini Pacific Crest Trail trek.

    The trek comes as the Bureau of Land Management is putting the final touches on two separate environmental assessments for the proposals.

    One of the environmental studies is on a proposed new 5.6-mile stretch of the Applegate Ridge Trail called East ART, which would link Sterling Creek Road to Highway 238 near Forest Creek, passing through the Bishop Creek ridgeline regularly speckled with paragliders and rife with Applegate Valley panoramas barely 10 minutes outside of Jacksonville.

    The second environmental assessment is on SUTA's proposed center of the Jack-Ash Trail — a 15-mile section that would include about five miles of new trail and about 10 miles of dirt roads. If completed, it would link both ends of the trail between the southeast end of the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail and Anderson Butte Road, SUTA President Hope Robertson says.

    "We should both be able to be cutting ground this fall, but we'll see how everything goes," ATA President Dave Calahan says.

    Ruediger says he and Weber will follow a series of trails and old roads, climbing and descending ridges to ensure they stay on BLM lands. They will embark from Lithia Park in downtown Ashland May 21 and expect to reach the Cathedral Hills outside of Grants Pass in five days.

    Videographer Tim Lewis of Eugene will join them daily on portions of the trail, and Ruediger and Weber will carry a GoPro camera to film themselves. They will resupply at access points, sleep under tarps and worm their way through the dense brush without machetes or other cutting tools.

    "We'll just work our way through," Ruediger says. "We've got trailheads, but no real trail yet. But it lays some good groundwork for us."

    Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or Follow him on Twitter at

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