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Lost Trails Found: Regaining Access to the North Fork Sullivan

Strong partnerships and a lot of hard work in the field makes for big improvements in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness.

In 2015, WTA launched our Lost Trails Found campaign with the goal of restoring backcountry trails that have been left in disrepair due to a lack of trail funding and maintenance. We made an ambitious goal of rehabilitating three priority areas as well as improving a number of at-risk trails across the state. The restoration of these lost trails will help keep them accessible for generations of hikers to come.

In the remote northeastern corner of our state, the North Fork Sullivan Trail showcases one of the most beautiful and secluded areas to explore. Teetering on the edge of the Salmo-Priest Wilderness, the trail leads hikers through a grueling, uphill climb through dense pine forest before leveling off at the incredible views found along Crowell Ridge.

Old bridge by Holly Weiler.jpegThe bridge across the North Fork Sullivan was in such disrepair, hikers and equestrians had no safe route into the Wilderness. Photo by Holly Weiler. 

Only a few hours north of Spokane, the North Fork Sullivan trail offers endless opportunities for adventures, serving as a convenient access point to a portion of the 1,200-mile Pacific Northwest Trail and offering numerous options for multi-day trips or backpacking loops. Until recently, the North Fork Sullivan has been closed to hikers and equestrians due to the absence of a safe wetland crossing. A dilapidated bridge stopped trail users in their tracks and forced many to turn back. 

Last summer, WTA crews began work on the North Fork Sullivan trail by removing the unstable 90-foot bridge and paving the way for a more sustainable reroute around a 60-foot-wide wetland. This summer, three more backcountry crews made the journey to the Colville National Forest to continue our work restoring this integral trail.

With the help of 16 volunteers and leaders, our crews were able to clear over 160 blowdowns, complete the necessary reroute and repair hundreds of feet of tread.

Even in the face of nearby fires and a closed trail system, all three WTA crews were able to safely make an impact on the trail. Jane Baker, a seasoned WTA crew lead, referred to the trip as “a true BCRT in every sense of the term since we had to change locations at the last minute due to a fire on the slopes of Thunder Mountain, and we were sequestered way back in the wilderness on a closed trail.”

North Fork Sullivan Crew by Karen Daubert.jpeg
The logout crew lead by Jane Baker had a successful 4-day trip in the Colville, clearing out over 130 blowdowns. Photo by Karen Daubert.

WTA's Hiking Guide Manager, Anna Roth, was a fellow member of the 9-person crew tackling the North Fork Sullivan this summer, "over the trip, our crew of nine got 168 logs off more than a mile of trail using only handtools, and did a few patches of seriously-needed tread work. There are still a few logs remaining on the final two miles to the Crowell Ridge junction, but they are mostly easily stepped over."

With the help of Jane, Anna, and the rest of the crew members, the formerly closed North Fork Sullivan trail is once again open for public enjoyment. Thanks to the work of WTA volunteers, the Forest Service and the Pacific Northwest Trail Association for making this work possible and bringing the North Fork Sullivan back to it's former glory.

Want to help save trails like these? Join WTA for a week of trail maintenance! Our annual Backcountry Response Teams are 3-8 day work parties that connect backpackers with much needed trail maintenance projects throughout Washington.