Latest from The Spokesman-Review
HIKING — A new federal report says only one-quarter of U.S. Forest Service trails meet the agency’s own standards as it attempts to catch up with a $524 million maintenance deficit.
The is the latest news, coming out after my recent localized story: Budget cuts leave recreation areas looking for outside help.
The Missoulian this week looked into the Government Accountability Office's nation-wide report on trail conditions.
Two groups petitioned members of Congress to look into the matter, since the last similar study was done in 1989. U.S. Reps. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., and Jim Moran, D-Va., officially requested the study.
“With the important exception of maintaining forest health to combat wildfires and insect kill, there is no other activity in the Forest Service’s portfolio that is more important than ensuring the public’s access to our forests and wilderness areas,” Lummis said in a statement, where she also described the trails maintenance program as “held together by Band-Aids and bailing wire.”
The Government Accountability Office report released on June 27 found the Forest Service did some maintenance on 37 percent of its 158,000 miles of trail in fiscal 2012. But it estimated another $314 million in deferred maintenance remained on the to-do list, along with $210 million in unfinished annual maintenance, capital improvements and operations. In its recommendations, the GAO called for closer work with volunteers to get projects done.
That’s already a working assumption for groups like the Backcountry Horsemen, according to Montana state chairman Mark Himmel.
“We asked the Forest Service for a punch list of places that needed work,” Himmel said after returning from a brush-clearing trip on the Continental Divide Trail near Rogers Pass. “The guy said throw a dart at the map. Wherever it hits needs work. We’re a maintenance organization. We pick up the slack and make it work. We know there’s budget cutbacks. I don’t know where it’s going to go, except to just keep at it.”
PUBLIC LANDS — Increasing fire danger has prompted the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to close Towell Falls Road in the Bureau of Land Management Spokane District’s Rock Creek management area to motorized traffic for the summer.
The Rock Creek management area, better known as Escure Ranch, is about 20 miles south of Sprague Washington in Whitman and Adams Counties.
The 3.2-mile dirt road into the Towell Falls area of Rock Creek remains open to hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers.
Info: (509) 536-1200.
HIKING — What a difference a week makes this time of year in the Idaho Selkirk Mountains.
Last week I reported ice still covering Beehive and Little Harrison lakes at 6,200 feet elevation up the Pack River drainage in the heart of the Selkirks.
Seeing the late opportunity to make some turns on the snow fields above Beehive Lakes, local skier Mike Brede trekked in on Saturday and found a slightly different scene.
There was still enough snow to make a run of 975 vertical feet from twin Peaks down to the upper Beehive Lake (see photo, that's the ice-free upper lake at the bottom of the run).
But the ice was gone from Beehive and Little Harrison lakes.
"And the mosquitoes are out now," Brede confirmed.
See more of his photos on Facebook.
PUBLIC LANDS — Pat Hart, who manages maintenance of recreation sites and trails in the Bonner Ferry Ranger District, has become an expert of attracting and accommodating volunteers, from youths to seniors, to get seasonal jobs done on a slim Forest Service budget.
It takes more thought that you might think.
Every year, Camp Thunderbird, a Minnesota youth outdoor summer camp, buses out about 20 teenage boys and another group of 20 girls, a lot of them from cities like Chicago, for outdoor adventure in the West, including a couple weeks of service work on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests.
“The girls arrive on a different day than the boys,” Hart said.
“The camp promises to do a ton of work while they’re here. We promise to keep the boys and girls groups at least three drainages apart for the entire time.”
TRAILS — The Spokane County Regional Trails Plan, which provides guidance for local, state and federal agencies in developing new trails and maintaining existing routes, is open to public comment through an online survey.
The plan seeks to coordinate trails throughout the region, identified corridors for trails and wildlife, aim for road and trail standards and promote the system.
The inventories and organization of the multi-partner plan already has helped the region secure more than $7 million in funding for trails and conservation areas, said Lunell Haught of the Inland Northwest Trails Coalition.
The plan includes the Spokane River Centennial Trail, Fish Lake Trail and other major trails as well as a network of smaller trails on agencies ranging from county parks and state parks to U.S. Bureau of Management Lands.
The public input will be incorporated into the plan as it's updated this year, Haught said.
PUBLIC LANDS — Federal resource acengies are suffering big budget hits, as I pointed out on my Sunday Outdoors story.
Here's a spotlight on the issues, using an example close to home:
ALARMING NUMBERS FROM THE COLVILLE NF
The 1.1 million-acre Colville National Forest spans 3 counties in Washington. This year its overall operating budget is about $16 million, employing about 150 permanent staff and 100 temporary workers. Forest officials round out the figures with these trends:
• 62 percent decrease in employees since the early 1990s.
• 5 percent reduction in overall budget in each
of past four years.
• 46 percent decrease in road maintenance contracting
budget in the past two years.
• 64 percent reduction in the already meager recreation budget expected in the next year.
TRAILS — The state budget approved during the special session of the Washington Legislature provides strong funding — $65 million — for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, which in turn funds grants to critically approved projects across the state.
Bids for projects involving the Spokane Centennial Trail and Spokane County Conservation Futures are among the 88 projects the WWRP has approved. Now that fundng is in the budget, some excellent recreation and wildlife projects will be allowed to go forward.
- See a complete list of funded and partially funded projects here.
- The WWRP is supported by the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition.
"Preserving critical habitat through the WWRP means all sportsmen and women will continue to have access to the outdoors," said Barry Nilson of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. "Hunters, anglers, and others will continue to see healthy wildlife populations and recreational opportunities across our great state. We hope to bring public access to even more outdoor enthusiasts in the next biennium."
Renewing WWRP funding is an essential investment in the state’s long-term economic prosperity because of the number of jobs that outdoor activities like fishing, hunting and hiking and more create and support. Annually, parks and recreation-based activities generate $22.5 billion in retail dollars and $1.6 billion in state and local tax revenue, supporting 227,000 jobs statewide.
STATE PARKS — Volunteers organized from local groups and organized by the Washington Trails Association are installing foot bridges for hikers and snowshoers over the creek crossed by popular trails, such as Trail 100. in Mount Spokane State Park.
Photo shows the crew after the first bridge was completed on Monday.
WTA is returning to the park July 20-22 to finish more bridges.
HIKING — Most of the popular trailheads in the Selkirk Mountains near Bonners Ferry are accessible by vehicle as of this week thanks to rain that erased much of the snowpack.
But hikers can still expect to find snow on the high and shaded trails.
Also expect blowdowns on many trails for awhile as trail crews are just getting access, too.
Here's a summary by Bonners Ferry Ranger District trails coordinator Pat Hart:
Roman Nose-Trout Creek road open to trailheads, but snow remains on trails.
West Fork Smith Creek route is open but West Fork Lake Trail has considerable damage; not suitable for stock.
Two-Mouth and Myrtle Peak access road is in bad condition, not even suitable for some high clearance vehicles. However, trail to Burton Peak is accessible and maintained.
Clifty Peak area is accessible but not maintained.
Boulder Creek area has just become accessible to vehicles, but has not been maintained.
Long Canyon-Parker Ridge may not be maintained for at least two weeks. Snow still clogs the high areas.
Snyder Creek ORV trails have been maintained.
TRAILS – Two friends groups are making it easy for volunteers to help improve access or restore habitat in three of the Inland Northwest's choice backcountry areas.
Friends of the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness have a full schedule ranging from guided hikes to trail building northeast of Lake Pend Oreille.
The Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation works to connect people with wilderness through stewardship activities, including a long list of volunteer projects ranging from controlling weeds to hosting fire lookout.
STATE PARKS — A group of volunteers from various local groups — more are needed! — are meeting Wednesday in an effort to curb the spread of knapweed in Mount Spokane State Park.
To join the group, wear good boots and meet at 10 a.m. at the hairpin turn parking lot inside the park at the Mount Kit Carson Loop Road trailhead.
- RSVP to email@example.com
- Info: Jeanie, (509) 467-8149.
Bags will be provided but bring gloves and whatever else you need to be comfortable working outdoors in the sun (water, hat, sun glasses, snacks/lunch, sun screen etc). A small spade or old screwdriver might also help.
The group plans to work for a couple hours, break for lunch and then perhaps hike the park trails in the afternoon.
Read on for details about spotted knapweed from from the Spokane County Weed Board:
HIKING — Here's a Saturday Field Report for hikers:
A Spokane Mountaineers group led by Lynn Smith maintained and brushed the trail to Stevens Lakes near Lookout Pass. They also picked up and packed out ALL of the litter.
- Snow is gone up to the lower lake, but snow patches linger at the upper lake, elev. 5,740 feet.
- East Fork Willow Creek can be crossed on logs.
- Still big cornices looming off Stevens Peak.
- Good huckleberry crop brewing.
UPDATED 1:55 P.M.
HIKING — Snow still clogs some high, shaded forest road and trail sections, but generally the backcountry is opening to high places for backpackers this week.
For example, I'll post below a scouting report from Coeur d'Alene hiker Lynn Smith who's leading a group of Spokane Mountaineers to Stevens Lakes in the Bitterroot Range near Lookout Pass on Saturday.
This is one of the club's annual volunteer trail maintenance treks to the popular North Idaho hiking destination.
Except for a couple small patches, the snow is off the trail all the way to the lake. The snow melted sooner this year than during the last couple so there're some short trail sections we haven't seen bare before, therefore haven't brushed before, so they will be one of our main goals.
There's also a couple minor drainage problems we'll address as well as the usual things; some switchback shortcut blocking, removal of the small debris of winter, campground clean-up from winter/early spring campers, and maybe a couple small blowdowns. Other than that its just a good hike in the mountains to Lower Stevens, 5 miles RT with 1700 feet of elevation gain. Passage to the upper lake is still pretty snowy and not on the agenda (but I could be swayed). The falls is in dynamic form, the lower part of the trail is in full bear grass bloom, and the meadow and headwall plants newly leafing out.
However, recent rains have caused streams to swell and trees to topple on trails in some Inland Northwest mountains. Here's a Friday afternoon note from Glacier National Park:
Back-country visitors should be aware that most creeks and streams are already running high from snowmelt and have spiked higher with recent rains. Extreme caution or perhaps an alternate route should be exercised for foot or stock crossing of creeks and streams. Some creeks and streams may be impassable at this time.
TRAILS — Aptly named Sage Clegg, 33, is attempting to become the first person to solo hike-and-bike the 750-mile Oregon Desert Trail.
Clegg has the credentials, having already proved to be among the country’s fastest ultralight female backpackers.
She left her home in Bend on June 5 and is en route to Idaho, hoping to finish by July 20 before the desert goes from hot to broiling. She's already encountered treeless stretches, arrowheads, bighorn sheep and this week entered some forested terrain, accordng to her desert trail blog.
The Oregon Natural Desert Association created the concept of the desert trail to raise awareness for desert protection.
The staff has worked two years mapping the route, which links trails, roads and corridors through Oregon desert jewels, including the Badlands, Hart Mountain, Steens Mountain and the Owyhee canyonlands. (See a map of the route.) But Clegg will still have some dots to connect as she bicycles the flatter, most boring sections of trail and walks another 600 miles.
Her support team will mail food packages to spots along the way (Frenchglen, Fields, McDermitt, Rome), just as it did during the 18 months it took her to hike 8,000 miles of the Pacific Crest, Continental Divide and Appalachian national scenic trails.
Clegg carries about 12 pounds plus food and water. Her tent weighs 3.5 ounces. This is the perfect time for the wildlife biologist to go hiking because her work as a desert tortoise researcher in California’s Mojave Desert goes on hiatus while the reptiles spend summer underground.
Follow her desert journey online, onda.org.
PUBLIC LANDS — Drinking water systems are not operating at some popular Bureau of Land Management recreation areas on Lake Coeur d'Alene this summer, another victim of limited funding for federal agencies.
If you are planning to take in the views along the Mineral Ridge National Recreation Trail or enjoying a picnic at BLM’s Beauty Bay site, you’ll need to bring drinking water with you this summer. The water systems at both locations are not functioning, and because of budget impacts from sequestration, funding to fix them is not available.
To further complicate getting the water systems operational, the BLM’s Coeur d’Alene Field Office is unable to conduct the necessary bi-weekly water sampling in order to meet the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) drinking water standards due to a lack of personnel, said BLM spokeswoman Suzanne Endsley.
The failure of Congress to act on the sequestration legislation resulted in a 50 percent reduction in staffing for BLM's recreation department in the Coeur d'Alene district.
Click here to see the recreational opportunites the district provides.
CONSERVATION — Six volunteers are needed to work with the Recreation and Conservation Office in evaluating grant applications for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.
For more than 20 years, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP) has been the state’s primary source of funding for parks, trails, and wildlife habitat and is the only source of state funding for working farms.
Antoine Peak and many of the Spokane County Conservation Futures areas have been secured with help from these funds.
In a historic bipartisan effort by former Governors Dan Evans and Mike Lowry, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition founded the WWRP in 1989 to address the need for preserving more land for outdoor recreation and wildlife habitat.
The Coalition continues to be the primary advocate and watch dog for the WWRP. In 24 years, the Coalition has leveraged more than $1 billion for projects in every county across the state.
The state Recreation and Conservation Office has released the following requirements for WWRP evaluators:
- One volunteer should be from a recreational organization or parks board and three should be from local government. These volunteers will evaluate grant applications from state agencies and will serve on the State Lands Development and Renovation Advisory Committee.
- Two volunteers should work for local government and have experience managing parks for a diverse range of recreational activities. These volunteers will evaluate grant applications to buy land, build or improve local parks and will serve on the Local Parks Advisory Committee.
- One volunteer is also needed to evaluate trail requests.
Applications are available on the RCO’s website. The deadline is June 14, 2013.
Contact: Frances Dinger, 509.590.8111 | firstname.lastname@example.org
RIVERS — Wiley E. Waters rafting company is offering discounted three-hour whitewater river float trips for the Washington State Parks Centennial 2013 celebration on Saturday (June 8) at Riverside State Park.
Trips will start at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., with shuttles from Riverside Park's Bowl and Pitcher area to the launch site in Peaceful Valley and from the take-out at Plese Flats.
Cost: $49. Pre-register: (208) 457-1092 or on line, riverrafting.net.
Last-minute sign-up will be accepted by the outfitter’s booth at the Bowl and Pitcher if space is available.
Check the Riverside State ParksFoundation website for details and a schedule of events for the centennial celebration.
See the Sunday Outdoors story: Riverside good choice for Centennial Celebration.
PUBLIC LANDS — The Washington State Parks Centennial 2013 celebration at Riverside State Park will feature free activities on Saturday (June 8) from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. based at the Bowl and Pitcher day-use area and campground.
The Discover Pass requirement for vehicles will be waived for the day.
RAFT THE RIVER
Wiley E. Waters rafting company is offering discounted three-hour whitewater river float trips for the Centennial 2013 celebration on Saturday.
Trips will start at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., with shuttles from the Bowl and Pitcher area to the launch site in Peaceful Valley and from the take-out at Plese Flats.
Cost: $49. Pre-register: (208) 457-1092 or on line, riverrafting.net.
Last-minute sign-up will be accepted by the outfitter’s booth at the Bowl and Pitcher if space is available.
SCHEDULE of Free events on June 8:
1:15 a.m. – Raptor program, West Valley Outdoor Learning Center.
Noon – Park blessing, Spokane Tribe, plus welcome from park manager, dignitaries.
1:15 p.m. –Patrick McManus book signing.
2:15 p.m. – Live music by three bands through 6 p.m.
2:30 p.m. – Beginner Orienteering Course, Eastern Washington Orienteering Club.
2:30 p.m. – Arts and Crafts, Spokane Parks & Recreation.
3:30 p.m. – Bike Rodeo, Evergreen East Bike Club.
3:30 p.m. – Geocaching 101, Washington State Geocaching Association.
4:30 p.m. – River trail hike led by Rich Landers, Spokesman-Review outdoors editor and author of "Day Hiking Eastern Washington." Meet at Bowl & Pitcher day-use parking area trailhead that leads to the swinging footbridge.
Check the Riverside State Park Foundation website for more details about the centennial celebration.
HIKING — This photo is just a glimpse of the scenic value I enjoyed this weekend with other backpackers as we hiked up the Wenaha River from Troy, Oregon.
The Wenaha is a major trib to the Grande Ronde, a former steelhead and salmon fishing ground for Chief Joseph, and namesake for the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness.
You have to hike in roughly six miles just to reach the wilderness boundary.
It's a sweet early-season trek, opening to backpackers sometime in March.
PUBLIC LANDS — The Colville National Forest has temporarily closed the Kettle Crest Trailhead, Sherman Overlook Campground and the Sherman Overlook Day Use Area on Sherman Pass to ensure public safety and allow crews to remove a number of dead trees that could fall and pose a hazard to visitors.
The temporary closure will remain in effect until crews can safely remove the dead trees. This work is expected to be completed in the early summer.
The campground and trailhead are located approximately 26 miles west of Kettle Falls, Washington along Washington State Route 20 (WA-20).
The temporary closure will not close the popular Kettle Crest Trail, it only closes the trailhead. Visitors may park at the interpretive kiosk along the side of WA-20 and access the trail.
Info: Kettle Falls Regional Information Center: (509) 738-2300.
WILDERNESS — Long-distance hikers Whitney "Allgood" LaRuffa and his dog, Karluk, will make a keynote presentation highlighting the annual State of the Scotchman's gathering Friday to update the pubic on the campaign for winning wilderness designation for the Scotchman Peaks area northeast of Lake Pend Oreille.
This is a chance to catch up with wilderness advocates and get an update on the political state of the proposal, which has gotten a boost this year from the March release of the movie Grass routes: Changing the Conversation by Wildman Pictures.
"Exciting things are happening around the movie," says Phil Hough, FSPW exec, "and more than ever before, it feels like the time is now for a bill for the Scotchmans."
Eichardt's Pub, Grill and Coffee House will be provide no-host beer and wine at the event and Jupiter Jane's food bus will standing by to feed the hungry. Bring a folding chair for seating during LaRuffa's presentation.
Hough, LaRuffa and Karluk will lead a "doggy" hike on the new Star Peak Trail in Montana on Saturday (June 1) as part of the National Trails Day celebration nationwide.
Sign up for the hike by email: email@example.com.
TRAILS — The Spokane REI store is trying to round up a crew of several hundred volunteers for a brief but massive effort to reroute a portion of a popular Little Spokane River trail off private land.
Join the group! These service projects are fun and satisfying.
In cooperation with Riverside State Park, the store’s annual family-friendly Service Day project is set for 9 a.m.-noon on Saturday (June 1), National Trails Day.
Helpers will redirect the Valley Trail downstream from Indian Painted Rocks onto state park land.
Individuals should preregister at the REI website.
Larger groups contact Carol Christensen at the store, 328-9900.
FORESTS — A trail closure notice just issued by the Colville National Forest is a reminder that roads, trails and campgrounds are subject to the whims of nature, even on a holiday weekend.
Call ahead to forest offices to check on any last-minute closures that could foil your plans.
Upper North Fork Trail #507 will be closed to public use until a washed out bridge can be replaced, Colville Forest officials announced this morning.
The #507 trail is a connector trail that connects the upper portion of the North Fork of Sullivan Creek to the #515 Crowell Ridge Trail in the Salmo Priest Wilderness.
Info: Sullivan Lake Ranger Station at (509) 446-7500.
Outside magazine online is asking readers to vote for the nation's "best active town," and Spokane is one of the 10 candidates for the distinction.
The cover photo for the Spokane listing features cyclists on the Centennial Trail along the Spokane River, which is a good start to the city's numerous outdoor attractions.
But note that the survey so far doesn't even barely scratch the surface of options for running, cycling, mountain biking and even downhill mountain biking, rock climbing, conservation areas, trails, wildlife, paddling, fishing, etc.
Other cities in the running include Waitsfield, Vt.; Bozeman, Mont.; Carbondale, Ill., Park City, Utah; Greenville, S.C.; Honolulu, Hawaii; Oklahoma City, Okla.; and Boston, Mass.
TRAILS — The Route of The Hiawatha rail-trail near Lookout Pass is set to open for the 2013 summer season on Saturday (May 25).
The 15-mile route for mountain biking or hiking follows the abandoned Milwaukee Railroad grade between the old town site of Taft, Mont., (off Interstate 90) and the North Fork of the St. Joe River near Avery, Idaho.
Top attractions include seven trestles towering up to 230 feet over the creeks and forest and 10 tunnels, including the 1.7-mile St. Paul Pass Tunnel at the Montana-Idaho border.
The gentle 1.6 percent average grade drops 1,000 feet over the 15 miles length with shuttle buses available to transport trial users and their bikes back to the top.
Trail passes, shuttle tickets and mountain bike rentals are available at Lookout Pass Ski Area conveniently located off I-90 at the top of the pass on the Idaho/Montana border 12 miles east of Wallace, Idaho.
Basic trail passes cost $6 for kids and $10 for adults. Season passes and group rates area available, as well as shuttle bus service from Lookout Pass, lunch options and guided tours.
The trail will be open daily, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. PDT, through Sept. 29.
Biking the Hiawatha is one of the Inland Northwest's top memorable adventures you can organize for an active outing with summer out-of-town guests.
PUBLIC LANDS — A proposal to purchase a 9.5-acre addition to an access site for the 1,066-acre Antoine Peak Conservation Area is on the agenda for today's Spokane County Commission meeting.
Antoine Peak is the mountain north of East Valley High School and east of Forker Road in Spokane Valley.
The Spokane County Parks, Recreation, and Golf Department will ask permission to spend $300,000 in county Conservation Futures funds to purchase the site owned by the Johnson Family Trust. The family has been allowing the public to use some of the property since the county secured the land in three phases concluding in 2011.
Public use is growing in the area, which is part of the voter-approved conservation program to protect wildlife habitat and open spaces for passive public recreation.
The property the family is offering to the county — before listing it for sale to the public — includes the existing public parking area on the east side of the mountain along with a 2,800 square foot residence with detached garage. The site is critical to the county because it's the only place available near the trailhead for public parking.
The residence could be used as a park ranger or maintenance worker residence. Acquiring the subject property would also allow Spokane County Parks to expand the existing lot as needed to handle increasing use.
Another parking site is being researched on the west side of the peak.
TRAIL – Introduce yourself to the developing Pend Oreille Bay Trail near Sandpoint with a running OR walking benefit on June 1, National Trails Day.
Pre-register online by May 28 for the 5K and 10K events, which include t-shirts and prizes. The route starts and finishes at Trinity at City Beach and goes along the lakeshore and Sand Creek.
The event will benefit Friends of the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail, a group working to link a natural waterfront trail from City Beach to Black Rock and Ponder Point along the lake’s northwest shore.
Info: (208) 946-7586 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.