We’re more than halfway through 2020 and its been an eventful year for many reasons – trail-related and otherwise.
I hope you have been able to get out and enjoy walking,
running, or riding on the trails.
Its certainly provided me and many others I meet on the trails with a welcome respite from the stresses of the Covid-19 pandemic and a chance to get out for some socially distant recreation. If you are on the trail and meet others, please be respectful and step as far off the trail as you can, turn away, and otherwise try to maintain a safe distance between you and others.
I am happy to report that despite having to cancel the last 2 scheduled work parties for this spring due to the Covid-19 restrictions, we have been able to ensure that the trails are open and accessible. We recently completed weed-whacking just over 20 miles of the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail and Jack Ash Trail. We hired a local crew, and SUTA volunteer Jim Eiland joined the crew for 10 days out on the trails. All of the Jack Ash trail has been cleared, as well as the SMDT from partway up the Grub Gulch Access Trail on the northern end to 3 miles past the Armstrong Gulch Access trail, both Armstrong Gulch Access trails, and the Bear Gulch-Tunnel Ridge Loop. The crew wasn’t able to complete all of the SMDT and other access trails, due to the limited funds we had and an increase in fire restrictions, but that will be a goal for next year and beyond. We will continue our winter work parties this coming season assuming that we can comply with any current Covid-19 restrictions, and will focus those activities on brush clearing to make the weed-whacking easier next season. The trails look fantastic so please get out and enjoy a run, walk, or ride without worry about poison oak, stickers, or burs for the rest of the season! Here are a couple of photos of the crew working on the trail and the ‘whacker-wagon’ that Jim Reiland invented and built to carry the required fire extinguisher, gas, extra string, tools, and lunch!
The other primary activity is that the BLM released the Jack Ash Phase II Environmental Assessment in April for public comment. There were some unexpected issues raised in the public comments that we are working to resolve in coordination with BLM and hope to have a final decision sometime before fall. SUTA officially recommended that the project be approved with modifications, primarily removing the shared-use (non-motorized and motorized users) segments because of both safety and sustainability concerns. There are some other modifications on recommended trail segments and routes that may be incorporated, but until the process is further along we won’t know exactly what the final project might look like. We are still expecting to have around 20 miles of new trails approved.
The final bit of news is that Duane Mallams, our trail design master, has been working with a couple of local landowners who have or are going to grant an easement for trails across their properties. One easement is at the very north end of the Jack Ash area off of Griffin Lane that will allow us to continue toward Jacksonville. He has begun working on clearing and constructing the trail on that easement, in some cases with other volunteers. The second easement will get us much closer to connecting to the East Applegate Ridge Trail through property that lies between BLM parcels and Sterling Creek Road. We hope to have that finalized this summer and then will work with BLM to connect the Jack Ash Phase II trail segments to the easement property.
We are very optimistic that we will be able to hire a trail construction crew and begin construction for the Phase II segments sometime during late fall/winter. We will be looking for crew members at that point and may send out a request to identify qualified candidates. We have also applied for a couple of large grants through BLM and the Oregon Parks & Recreation District’s Recreational Trails Program to fund trail construction and maintenance, and will learn of any awards later this fall and winter so we have our fingers crossed both on getting the Jack Ash project approved and getting the funds to pay for construction. Based on the costs for construction of the initial phase of the Jack Ash trail at upwards of $12,000/mile, we have quite a lot of fundraising in our future to pay for 20 miles of new trails!
We will publish the proposed dates for the next season’s work parties once we are confident we can gather in groups larger than 10 people, so watch the website and social media for any updates in the next couple of months. Meanwhile, I hope you are all staying well and safe and navigating the new reality we find ourselves in as we get through this pandemic.
One final note is that a timber company is doing some logging at the top of Armstrong Gulch (this is privately owned property and not public land), so if you are planning to visit the SMDT trailheads off of Sterling Creek Road, please drive carefully and be aware that there may be trucks or equipment on Armstrong-Deming Road.