Small troops of volunteers are giving a big boost to trails and wildlife resources throughout the Inland Northwest.
Members from conservation, hiking, biking, equestrian and off-road vehicle groups have been investing their time and labor and helping public lands managers stretch their meager budgets.
“Volunteers are absolutely invaluable to us,” said Pat Hart, trails maintenance chief for the Bonners Ferry Ranger District. “We have only a little money allocated to do a lot of work, and without these people a lot of it wouldn’t get done.”
This summer, Hart has recruited the help of four summer-long volunteers, plus 17 teenage girls from Camp Thunderbird in Bemidji, Minn., a group from the American Hiking Society and a dozen adult Sierra Club volunteers devoting a week of their summer vacations to hard labor in the Selkirk Mountains.
Much of that volunteer effort this summer has been centered on rehabilitating old logging routes and re-routing Trail 185 to Snow Lakes.
“The girls from Thunderbird Camp were here last year as part of a summer outdoor experience where they hike and have fun but also do public service,” Hart said. “They didn’t’ think they did enough work last year so they came back and worked hard for three days clearing brush.”
The Sierra Club and Hiking Society groups have been coming since 1986, she said.
Alec McBeth of Florida, who was a summer-long volunteer in 1986, returned this year as a volunteer with his 15-year-old son.
“Being a flatlander from Tallahassee, I loved the country in Idaho and I’ve never forgotten it,” McBeth said. “I was 23 and a poor back then and I had three months to do nothing but get out and work in the country. It was an eye-opening experience; one that has stayed with me, and one that I wanted my son to experience.”
Of course, local residents contribute most of the volunteer work on the regions backcountry.
•The North Idaho ATV Association worked last Saturday to clear an all-terrain vehicle trail in the Eighty Day Saddle area of the Coeur d’Alene National Forest.
The group worked all day to clear 4.5 miles of the Grizzly Trail, which had previously been opened by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation OHV fund and a crew from the Northwest Access Alliance.
“Limbs need to be cut close to the trunk of the tree and brush needs to be cut close to the ground to reduce the chance of riders being stabbed by a dead limb.” explained Tom Crimmins, a local trail consultant and member of the group.
“Experience throughout the country has shown that when trail systems exist, riders stay on the trails and enjoy the sport without causing environmental problems,” he said.
“It feels good to complete a hard day and know that another trail is available to a family that may want to go out and enjoy a day together,” said volunteer Bev Powers.
•Mountain bikers recently re-routed a treacherous section of trail known as Devils Down in Riverside State Park. Under the guidance of trail building experts from the International Mountain Bicycling Association, nine members of the Fat Tire Trail Riders Club learned trail making techniques as they did the work.
The techniques they learned can be applied to other projects, said club organizer Craig Bierly.
“I suggest that you check out what 9 people accomplished in 4 hours of hot weather,” he said, adding that he hopes more people will join the club in projects to finish that trail and start on others.
Incidentally, President George W. Bush recently spent a vacation day mountain biking at the new Tamarack Resort in central Idaho on a 25-mile trail system designed and built by the IMBA.
“I heard the president really liked our trails,” said IMBA trail manager Joey Klein, who manages the multi-year job that also includes professional trailbuilders from Arrowhead Trails Inc. and Trail Dynamics, LLC. “The security guys told us he had a blast riding the berms and drop-offs on the Culebra Loca trail, and that he headed back there for another ride early (the next) morning. I think he was impressed with riding purpose-built mountain biking trails.”
•Spokane-area chapters of the Backcountry Horsemen are among the most consistent trail volunteer groups with a long list of project that started in May.
And they’re not finished for the season.
“In mid September were’ planning to hall in 20 yards of gravel by mule to replace the puncheon turnpike in on Salmo Basin Trail 506,” said Bob Gish of the Northeast Chapter based in Deer Park.