August 24 2009
By Phil Hufstader
In October, 2007, the main equestrian access trail, and shortest route on the West side into the Three Sisters Wilderness, was devastated by a freak wind storm. A large winter storm came out of the north carrying several feet of snow to the wilderness area, with strong frontal winds that devastated large blocks of timbered ridges on the west slopes of the Middle Sister. From the air it looked like a bomb was dropped knocking timber down over four miles of the primary Foley Ridge trail. One section, measuring over 1.5 miles, was covered with several hundred trees measuring six foot in diameter. A person could walk from tree to tree and never touch the ground. With record amounts of snow dropped that winter, and a late spring, it wasn't until the later part of August, 2008, that the entire trail could be surveyed. The McKenzie River District posted the trail closed, and rumors started flying within the equine community that the trail would never be opened again, due to USFS trail funding shortage.
Emerald Empire Chapter
At an Emerald Empire Back Country Horsemen of Oregon meeting, a heated discussion was brought forth on the rumor of the permanent closing of Foley Ridge trail system. Many of the chapter members hunt deer and elk within the wilderness boundaries and felt desperate to get it opened as soon as possible. Several chapter members decided to make a scouting trip into the area and bring back the actual facts about the devastation to the next chapter meeting. Chapter members Phil and Casey Hufstader, along with Matt Hope, led a scouting party into the wilderness in the late summer of 2008. They rode as far as possible and walked the entire damaged area, taking pictures and measurements so a plan could be formulated at the next chapter meeting. The chapter decided to take on the trail project, and Becky Hope was put in charge of making the contact with the local McKenzie Ranger District.
McKenzie Ranger District
Becky Hope of Emerald Empire Chapter of BCHO, met with Steve Otopaulik from the McKenzie Ranger District, who was in the process of applying for grant funding through the Forest Service for this project. That winter, and the spring of 2009, brewed its own perfect storm of meetings and a combined effort from the equestrian groups formulated a two prong strategy plan for opening parts of the trail, what was still missing was the funding. As luck would have it, BCHO's Public Lands Chair, Marlene Orchard was attending a Region-6 grant meeting in Portland when discussion came up on prioritizing expected Title II funds being distributed to the Region. Marlene was able to strongly suggest the Foley Ridge trail project be put at the top of the list. With her help, the entire project was funded for two years. The money came from the Title II program, specifically for counties under the PL-110-343 Secured Rural School and Community Self Determination Act of 2000.
Wayne Chevalier of the McKenzie Ranger District was put in charge of the project. He saw it as an opportunity to educate volunteers, and Forest Service personnel, with the respect to cross cutting large technical trees with multiple binds in rough terrain. He involved local BCHO chapters, and any equestrian person that wanted to help. Becky Hope was the overall contact for all volunteers, and she coordinated the entire scheduling and record keeping for the project. The plan was to rotate volunteers and USFS trail crews through the summer until the main trail could be logged out, with the plan of coming back in the summer of 2010 to accomplish the tread work.
The Emerald Empire chapter of BCHO would provide all the pack stock and several trips were required to get all the camp supplies and trail maintenance tools in to the wilderness. Three camps were established along the trail at different locations to facilitate a continuous support for the trail work parties. The first two trips required experienced packers to haul loads over ten foot drifts of snow to camp sites that would be used later in the summer. The overall length of the project covered over twelve miles of trail, but cross country riding over snow packed areas, and navigating steep terrain, was required to even get close to the project. Several side trails leading into, or several ridges away from the project, had to be opened up or navigated.
Spring of 2009 came late to the Three Sisters Wilderness forcing some delays in actually getting the trail cutting project going. Deep snow still covered most of the down trees across the trail until the middle of June, even at the lower elevations. The Hope's and Hufstader's, several chapter members, and other riders, packed in the base camps, food, tools and stock feed, and other required equipment over major snow drifts in preparation for the project.
As the snow drifts started to melt, USFS trail crews moved up the trail, cutting out or re-routing the trail as they went, several volunteers bumped half way up the trail system and began cutting out the trail in both directions. The USFS rotated crews every week and several more trips were required by the Emerald Empire chapter to pull out existing camps and bumping up supplies until the middle of July when the trail was totally cut out. The plan had been two years to get the entire trail open, but with all the volunteers and the combined effort with the USFS, it was accomplished in just over sixty days. The next step of the plan, major tread work to be done in the summer of 2010, was then rushed into place by bringing in the Northwest Youth Corp. A packer was hired by the Ranger district to support their progress, leaving chapter members to branch out and open side trails leading into favorite hunting or fishing areas.
As National Director for BCHO, and a member of the Emerald Empire Chapter, I would like to give thanks to all that participated in accomplishing this major project. Without the combined effort of everyone that helped, this would not have been accomplished. It's a positive example on how working with an agency can be done right, with the goal of keeping the back country open for all users. From this project, several more are planned in that same area using the remaining funds to open up storm damaged areas that have been close for more than ten years.
About Back Country Horsemen of America
BCHA is a non-profit corporation made up of state organizations, affiliates, and at large members. Their efforts have brought about positive changes in regards to the use of horses and stock in the wilderness and public lands.
If you want to know more about Back Country Horsemen of America or become a member, visit their website: www.backcountryhorse.com, call 888-893-5161, or write PO Box 1367, Graham, WA 98338-1367. The future of horse use on public lands is in our hands!
Contact: Peg Greiwe
Back Country Horsemen of America