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Sunday, August 9, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Off-Roaders Fire Up Their Chain Saws Slowed Forest Job Means Bikers, Motorcyclists Can Clear Trails

John Miller Staff writer

With the Fernan Ranger District’s plans to salvage damaged timber at Canfield Mountain on hold until midsummer, mountain bikers and motorcyclists at this off-road mecca should add something new to their equipment quivers.

A chain saw.

“I’ve got buddies who have a special handlebar mount for their saws,” Greg Johnson said on Monday. The Coeur d’Alene man was testing out his 500cc motorcycle on a path just up from Nettleton Gulch Road.

“Most of the trees across the trails are small,” Johnson said, describing his afternoon ride. “You just cut as you go.”

The ice storm last Nov. 19 left thousands of trees lying across trails here. The U.S. Forest Service eventually wants to use both conventional and helicopter logging to remove fallen trees from all over the mountain, and is taking public comment on the proposed operation until May 14.

But the 45-day appeal period after that would delay logging at least until July. As a result, officials have given folks pining to climb back into the saddle earlier the green light to clear trails on their own.

That’s music to the ears of Esther McDonald, Panhandle Trailriders Association vice president.

Her off-road motorcycle group has been involved in maintenance projects at Canfield Mountain in years past.

“We initially wanted to wait until after salvage operations, because the Forest Service could use some of the money from a timber sale to repair damage,” said McDonald.

“But because the damage was so extensive, rangers didn’t think it was fair to keep people out of the area,” she said. “Plus, there are so many trees down that anything we clear from the trails would just be a drop in the bucket.”

McDonald said the motocross group has planned a trail-clearing party for this Saturday - conditions permitting. She said late-season snow has kept them from coming in earlier.

But local mountain biker Willy Keane, several of his friends, and dozens of other motorcycle riders and mountain bikers already have been working independently on Canfield Mountain for a couple of weeks.

“From what we can tell, the Forest Service doesn’t have resources to clear, so we’ve been doing what’s not snowed in,” Keane said. “As it melts, we do more.”

Just how much of the 33-mile trail system has been cleared is debatable.

Before Johnson climbed back on his Yamaha and sped down the mountain, he said the trails were “about 50 percent finished.” He boldly predicted that everything would be cleared by early May - if the volunteer effort keeps its current pace.

But David Ward, a mountain biker making the four-mile plunge from the summit radio towers on Monday, isn’t so confident.

He tried coming down the Penn Trail, but it was blocked. Two other popular single tracks also were choked with trees.

“I got turned down three times,” Ward said.

“I walked one, and had to go over trees in two different areas. It’s not just the trees - lots of branches are down, too. Motorcycles can ride right over them, but bicycles can’t.”

For folks interested in helping out, firewood cutting is allowed in some areas on Canfield Mountain, but people must buy a minimum $10 permit for two cords at the Fernan Ranger District, officials said.

To comment on the proposed salvage logging effort, people should contact Sherri Lionberger at the Fernan Ranger District.

Salvage logging would reduce loss of timber value, reduce risks of bark beetle infestation, and provide for some fire hazard reduction, according to Forest Service officials.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Canfield Mountain Trail System

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