December 2021 SUTA News and Trail Update

I hope you’ve all had lots of chances to spend time hiking, riding, or running on the trails this year! With 2021 nearly over, there quite a lot of updates to share about what we have been doing to promote and maintain the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail (SMDT) and Jack-Ash Trail.

One of the most significant achievements for this year is that we have approximately 11 miles of new trails approved as part of the Phase II of the Jack-Ash trail. Most of the new trail segments will be built on Anderson Butte and will create some new connections within the SMDT system, as well as segments on the far northern end of what will ultimately be the Jack-Ash Trail connection toward Jacksonville. These new trail segments will offer some spectacular views of the Siskiyou Crest and Applegate Valley (photo shows the view from one of the new trail segments) and create loops of varying distances for hikers and riders to explore more of this special area. We’re excited to finally have these new trail segments approved through the NEPA process. We are applying for grants and looking for other sources to fund construction of the new trails. SUTA will need to raise as much as $140,000 to complete the entire project, so we may not be able to begin construction until early 2022 or later, depending on when we have sufficient funding to begin the work.

SUTA will soon be receiving the funding for two Title II grants from BLM totaling around $60,000 for weed-whacking and additional brush clearing for the entire SMDT and Jack-Ash Trail system for a total of three years. This funding will also include trailhead improvements for the three Jack-Ash Trailheads. The trailhead improvements will include installation of metal kiosks at each trailhead as well as parking area improvements. We will begin coordinating with the BLM for the trailhead improvements as soon as the funds are available. The weed whacking will be done in late May-early June each year for the next three years.

We completed weed whacking of all of the SMDT and Jack-Ash trails by early June of this year. The crew was comprised of local residents hired through an employment agency, as well as SUTA volunteers. This was the second year we’ve been able to do this level of maintenance, and it really shows out on the trails. The encroaching vegetation has been pushed back and the crew noted that it was a much easier and faster job the second year, so we are optimistic that being able to continue in future years will keep the trails clear of grasses, poison oak, and other vegetation year-round. The other ongoing maintenance concern is removing trees that have fallen onto the trail. The BLM provided a forestry crew in May, and SUTA board members went out with the crew as guides; together they removed 20 downed and hazard trees from locations throughout the system. In addition, volunteers continually go out to remove downed trees that are reported. If you are out on the trails and observe new trees down on the trail, please notify SUTA or BLM about the location and estimated size so we can plan to clear them.

In the meantime, we have our regular monthly volunteer work parties scheduled through April 2022, and we welcome any and all volunteers to come join us for these half-day events. We will announce the location for each work party in advance, so if you are on our email list or connected by Facebook you will receive notifications, and the information is also available on the SUTA website. Since we have begun the annual weed-whacking, our work party focus has shifted to tread improvements and removing woody vegetation so the weed-whackers can more easily clear the trail corridor.

We have obtained additional easements to allow trails to cross private property. One of the properties is near the high point on Sterling Creek Road near Woodrat Mtn Road. Once completed, this will move us closer to connecting the Jack-Ash trail to the East Applegate Ridge Trail. Initially this section of trail will be accessed from existing BLM roads between Griffin Lane and Sterling Creek Road. We will be working toward getting approval for new trail sections to connect to this property from Griffin Lane. The second easement will allow us to reopen approximately 0.75 miles of the Sterling Mine Ditch at Wolf Gulch. This will create a “lollipop” in the middle of the SMDT and allow for additional loop options from the Wolf Gap access trail and Bear Gulch, as well as offer an option to remain on the ditch for through hikers/riders using the SMDT. We also have an easement on property at what will ultimately be the northern end of the Jack-Ash Trail. This trail will initially provide another lollipop hike/ride option with views to the northeast and Cascades. We hope to have additional easements in the future that will extend this end of the trail toward Jacksonville.

The BLM published a notice in the Code of Federal Regulations describing the planned safety closure to prohibit shooting at locations on Anderson Butte. Several of these locations are at Jack-Ash trailheads or locations that impact the Jack-Ash Trail. Public comments are requested and must be submitted before the public comment period ends on January 3, 2022. A final decision will be made following the comment period, and once a final decision is issued, a temporary two-year closure would be put into effect. For more information, see https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/10/28/2021-23495/notice-of-proposed-restrictions-on-public-lands-in-jackson-county-or. More information about the public comment period and safety closure will also be provided via email.

Finally, you may have noticed some changes to our website, www.sutaoregon.org, recently. We are in the process of updating/upgrading our website to improve performance on mobile devices and generally make it easier to use. For now, the current website is being optimized by our new web manager, but the update will be launched in the next couple of months, so watch for more changes to come! We would also like to thank A Greater Applegate (www.agreaterapplegate.org) for their generous grant award to support our website update.

It’s been great to see so many people using the trails, and I hope you all continue to get out and enjoy spending time hiking, riding, and running in all seasons. We also welcome your continued support and donations for SUTA’s efforts to maintain and expand the trails we enjoy.

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