Sterling Mine Ditch Trail

Since this past spring it has been possible to enjoy 18 miles of the SMDT without needing to duck overhanging branches, squeeze through buck brush thickets, or dance the limbo with poison oak!   A heartfelt “THANK YOU” to all who volunteered a weekend morning (or two, or six!) on a SUTA trail crew to make this possible!    We hope you took time this year to enjoy the trail (without  carrying a trail tool!).

However, nature loves a vacuum, and if we don’t maintain the narrow corridor along the ditch, plant life will gradually reclaim the trail.  Trail work during the previous two years involved mostly hiking with a loppers and hand saw, talking, laughing, eating a scone or muffin, and pausing to remove overhanging branches and small trees or shrubs growing in or along the tread.  That won’t change in 2012.

But we will shift our efforts to removing fast growing shrubs and trees re-sprouting along the trail’s edge.  That means digging, or “grubbing” them out with a tread tool like a Pulaski, McLoud, or Green Grubber.   We’ll also improve the tread in places where it steeply side- slopes or too abruptly drops into the ditch.   So instead of everyone carrying a loppers and hand saw, in 2012 we’ll need only one person in four to use a loppers and saw, while the other three carry tread tools (provided by SUTA and the BLM) and concentrate on grubbing out stumps, improving small stretches of tread, or digging out poison oak clumps growing right on the trail’s edge.

Now, before you say “ugh, that sounds like really hard work!” and decide you’d rather shop at the Rogue Valley Mall or read the entire New York Times Sunday paper, it helps to think of the SMDT in terms of “yards” instead of “miles.”   There are 1,769 yards in a mile, so the 18 mile long SMDT is also 31,680 yards long.   Remember that number—31,680 yards.

We surveyed the entire trail during the last few months to determine what needed doing in 2012.   We hiked all 31,680 yards of the SMDT and found it in really good shape!   But one particular three-mile stretch seemed to need a lot of work.   While walking this stretch we paced off the linear yards of tread work, and counted the number of “grubbing points,” or “stumps and clumps” that need to go…and found that only 300 yards TOTAL, or about 1% of the entire SMDT, needs serious attention this year!  Our survey identified only 150 yards of tread work, and counted about 150 “stumps and clumps” that need grubbing out!

For perspective, a small work party of only four people (average age of 60) recently spent an hour fixing a continuous 100 yard section of steeply side-sloped trail about 1.5 miles west of the Armstrong  Gulch trail crossing.  And grubbing out a re-sprouting madrone or oak stump, or a poison oak clump can take between 1 and 10 minutes, depending on size.   As with last year,  we’ll be mostly walking with occasional work pauses.   If a dozen people volunteer for each of our five scheduled work parties, well, many hands make light work…and lots of laughter!

So, mark your calendars, and check the SUTA website to confirm trail dates and times.   If you can make it, be sure to RSVP so the cooks prepare enough trail snacks!   Email Jim Reiland at or call 541-899-1091.

2012 SUTA Work Party Dates.

Saturday, January 14th.   Sort of a warm-up for the rest of our 2012 work parties, we’ll revisit old ground and tune up some old trail maintenance skills.   We’ll hike up the Tunnel Ridge Access Trail, and once at the top, split into two groups, one heading east and one heading west, both to do light brushing and tread work.  The trail offers wonderful views of the Siskiyou Mountains, the Red Buttes Wilderness, and Wagner Butte as it contours along the hill side through deep conifer forests and open oak – madrone grasslands.  We’ll cross over several 130 year old stone retaining walls, and may take a little time to clear the brush from around them, too!   Carpool from Buncom at 8:30 AM for drive to Tunnel Ridge TH.

Saturday, February 4th.   We’ll gain access to the trail from private property at Wolf Gulch, then head west about 1.5 miles.  The trail crosses through a chaparral – grassy hillside and occasionally  tucks into more forested draws, with fabulous views of the Siskiyou Crest and Red Butte Wilderness.  Most of this work will involve fixing tread and grubbing stumps and clumps, although there will also be some saw and lopper work.   This area had been impassable for decades and was opened up two summers ago by BLM crews, and further brushed by SUTA work parties.   Work on this three-mile section will ensure that an annual fast paced walk with loppers and saw will maintain it for many years to come.   Meet at Buncom at 8:30 AM for carpool to Wolf Gulch.

Sunday, February 26th.   If you have a mountain bike, you’ll want to pump up your tires and dust off  your bicycle helmet for this work party!  We’re going to leave the Armstrong Gulch Trail Crossing and ride bicycles to where we left off on our last work party—a distance of about 6 miles—then work back towards Armstrong Gulch.   Bikes outfitted with bike racks will carry tools.   The trail is flat but not always smooth; we estimate about 45 minutes ride time to the work zone.   For people who don’t have mountain bikes it’s about a one hour plus walk on the SMDT from Armstrong Gulch to the work area.  Again, most of this work will involve fixing tread and grubbing stumps and clumps.   Carpool from Buncom at 8:30 AM for drive to Armstrong Gulch Trail Crossing.

Saturday, March 17th.    We’re re-opening the Wolf Gap Access Trail!   Only one mile long, this trail switch backs down the steep slope through oak-madrone grasslands, passes through rocky ravines, and reveals breath taking view after view of the Siskiyou Crest!   This trail hasn’t been passable for quite some time, so we’ll be doing a little of everything—plan to bring loppers, saw, or a tread tool.   Meet at Buncom at 8:30 A.M. for drive to Wolf Gap TH.

Saturday, April 14th.    We’re also re-opening several miles of the SMDT towards where it ended at a gold mine.  The first half of the trail hugs the north facing slope of Deming Gulch and passes through an enchantingly deep conifer forest.   After crossing Deming Creek it passes along a lightly wooded west facing slope before ending on private land.   Starting at the Deming Trail Head we’ll hike east for several miles, using loppers and saws to widen the trail, and tread tools to improve the path.   Meet at Deming TH at 8:30 AM—plenty of parking!

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