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Excited to be Back to Work on Trails Rebooted

WTA staff and volunteers have begun a gradual return to the field under new guidelines for COVID-19. Work parties are small affairs these days, and we still have restrictions on experience required to participate (under normal circumstances we love to welcome new volunteers on our trips!). But we're continuing to work with our agency partners to assess additional projects and an expanded schedule.

This summer, hiking may have reached a new peak of importance in our lives. With so many other typical summer plans on pause, it feels like more folks than ever are finding peace, joy and community on Washington’s trails.

Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, physical distancing mandates and staffing shortages, many public land managers haven’t been able to keep our trails in the conditions that hikers are used to finding them in this time of year. The same constraints have affected WTA’s trail maintenance program, which paused all programming for two-and-a-half months under the stay-at-home order.

Thankfully, WTA staff and volunteers have begun a gradual return to the field under new guidelines for COVID-19. Work parties are small affairs these days, and we still have restrictions on experience required to participate (under normal circumstances we love to welcome new volunteers on our trips!). But we're continuing to work with our agency partners to assess additional projects and an expanded schedule.

“I'm thrilled with the work we've been able to pull together so far," said Jen Gradisher, WTA's trail program director.

Trail maintenance plays a critical role in the hiker experience in ordinary summers, but this year with more people hiking than ever, it’s important that a multitude of trails are safely passable and accessible. Many of the trails we’ve been able to return to with volunteers already this summer are popular day-hiking locations that fall into our Trails Rebooted campaign

Our Trails Rebooted campaign is finding solutions to support our popular recreation areas by dispersing hikers to relieve pressure on our most popular trails, improving existing trails and championing the construction of new ones. We're excited to share a few of steps towards these goals that our volunteers have already made possible this summer.

A WTA volunteer wearing a green hard hat does trail work amid a field of lupine.
A WTA volunteer crew recently did trail work in the Corral Pass area, near Mount Rainier. Photo by Owen Vogeli.

Dispersing Hikers to Lesser-Known Landscapes

One great example of our Trails Rebooted work is happening in the Snoquera region, one of our focus areas for our Trails Rebooted campaign. It’s a great alternative to the more popular hikes in the I-90 corridor for Puget Sound area residents. It's also an alternative to Mount Rainier National Park that still offers excellent views of the mountain. 

Recently, a crew spent 5 days clearing and restoring the trail corridor in the Corral Pass area, which was burnt by the Norse Peak Fire. The crew work on about two miles of trail total, including restoring the trail and clearing burnt logs and debris off of the Rainier View trail and improving drainage on the Echo Lake Trail. The trails, which are multi-use, help disperse use across the landscape and connect with other trails to offer a variety of options for loop hikes, including connection to Noble Knob. 

Magnificent view of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan from the Yellow Aster Butte area.  -- Photo by Jeryl Kolb
Yellow Aster Butte is a popular trail will spectacular views. The trail needs year maintenance to keep it in good shape. Photo by Jerry Kolb.

Supporting Already Popular Trails

While we believe it's important to improve and add to our trail systems to help disperse hikers, we don’t want to neglect trails that are already popular (for good reason!). A key part of our Trails Rebooted work is making sure these popular trails, like Heliotrope Ridge and Yellow Aster Butte are safe and hikeable for generations to come. Heliotrope Ridge is a gorgeous hike that offers really close up glacier views — it also is used by climbers on their way to summit Mount Baker. With all the use the trail gets, it needs regular maintenance to keep it in shape. That's included in the past such work as creating check steps to help with erosion. This year, crews have been completing regular maintenance to keep the trail in good shape. Yellow Aster Butte, a stunner of a North Cascades hike is extremely popular in the summer and fall for its views of Mount Baker and vibrant seasonal foliage. WTA volunteers have worked this year to repair winter damage, removed brush from the early sections of the trail, and ensure the trail is a safe width for hikers. Crew leader Barbara Budd says that both of these trails need this annual work to help keep them safe and accessible for hikers. 

Creating New Trails

The Spokane-area has been a focus of our Trails Rebooted work from the beginning thanks to its incredible variety of hiking opportunities and enthusiastic recreation community. Our WTA volunteer community in the area is small but mighty, and they were some of the first to be able to return to volunteer trail work this summer, completing critical maintenance on some of the areas most popular hikes and breaking ground on new trail at a popular hiking destination.

Volunteer Smiles during Philips Creek New Trail Construction
WTA volunteers have been working on new trail construction in Dishman Hills. Photo by Holly Weiler.

The Spokane Mountaineers and WTA have partnered with Spokane County Parks to build new trails in the area as part of the expansion of the trail network throughout the Dishman Hills. The Philips Creek Addition is an expansion of the Glenrose Unit of Dishman Hills Conservation Area. It used to be know as the Flying L Ranch. When this new 2-mile trail opens to the public it will feature mid-elevation ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and grand fir forest along with open meadows. Holly Weiler, WTA’s Eastern Washington crew leader, reports, “This is a great opportunity to be part of the growth of recreational opportunities in Spokane. I think the trail is the one local project that's ahead of schedule!”

While it’s not quite the summer season we (or our volunteers) are used to, we’re thrilled to be back out working on trails and improving the hiker experience this summer. We're excited to welcome more volunteers back out in the coming months and hope that everyone continues to #RecreateResponsibly this summer. 

What a joy it is to be back out on trail with some of our amazing volunteers!  Hearing everyone catch up with each other, and listening to them each say how excited they were to be back out on trail again left me with a smile on my face for days,” said Barbara Budd, WTA Northwest crew leader.

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