Meet the Trail Community: Land Manager
What does a career with an agency that primarily works with water have to do with trails on terra firma?
For WTA's 50th Anniversary, we're highlighting trail users across Washington state. Hear what hiking means to them, and the future of their on-trail pursuits.
Jeremy Nguyen has had a connection to water since he was an Eagle Scout in Minnesota, where multi-day trips on the Boundary Waters ignited a love for camping and getting outdoors, and put him on the path to working for the Army Corps of Engineers. But what does an agency that primarily works with water have to do with trails on terra firma?
The Corps in general builds dams for the purposes of flood risk reduction, hydropower, navigation on the water ways, and water storage. The lands adjacent to the water that is held back due to the dams is then often managed by the corps. As a Natural Resources Specialist with the Army Corps, Jeremy is in charge of both the land and water at Bennington Lake -- an off-stream reservoir that stores water during the spring melt or flash floods in the Walla Walla valley.
Bennington Lake was originally constructed for flood risk reduction. When the project was completed in 1942 recreation was not a mission of the US Army Corps of Engineers, but by the 1950's recreation on Corps lands was becoming more popular. Bennington Lake (Mill Creek Reservoir at the time) was first filled for fishing and wildlife propagation in the 1950's. Then the Federal Water Project Recreation Act of 1965 added recreation to the Corps mission nationwide, spurred largely by the booming recreation already taking place on Corps lands adjacent to water.
Bennington Lake is also a designated National Recreation Trail, so in addition to providing flood protection, Jeremy manages the nearly 20 miles of trails on the property. These offer recreation for bicyclists, equestrians, hunters and hikers.
Managing for Multiple Users
Jeremy has had plenty of experience managing land for a variety of users.
In college, he worked as a student ranger in the Army Corps, doing park maintenance, assisting visitors, and operating water control gates on dams. After he graduated, he worked summers at Loon Lake Recreation Area in Oregon as the Crew Lead Park Ranger. Winters, he volunteered at Mill Creek Dam and Bennington Lake during the winter, with one season at Sand Dunes Recreation Area.
Working in a variety of places, for various agencies gave Jeremy valuable insight into different approaches to management.
"For example," he explains, "in Sand Dunes you can have lots of visitors doing high intensity recreation that really leaves an impression on the land, until the next time the wind kicks up and you end up with a nearly clean slate. But there are other areas of the country where much less visitation would cause damage that would need much more intensive restoration efforts."
"With the BLM I was in very high use areas for recreation. My experience in those situations helped me get a feel for how different landscapes handle different types of users."
Many Users, One Trail
At Bennington Lake, a significant portion of those users are locals looking for a short stroll, or birders who flock from all over America and many different countries to enjoy the Sun and Sage Loop, a Washington State Birding Trail.
Annually, mountain bikers enjoy Cyclo Cross events here, athletes participate in the Onionman Triathlon on the shores of (and in) the lake, and St. Mary’s Cancer Center hosts a Gran Fondo, a fundraiser that includes horseback rides, walks and running around the lake.
With all these events, daily traffic, and native animal habitat to consider, Jeremy has a lot to juggle when managing the area and the trails.
“We have a master plan for managing land here, both for resources and recreation. There aren’t many changes on the board right now. For the most part, the trails are standing up relatively well but keeping a balance is important. If it’s too crowded, some folks will stop coming.”
Communication is changing
The trails at Bennington Lake continue to see an uptick in use. Jeremy thinks he knows why. “Communication is changing. I don’t tell people about updates, events or changes to the Lake in person or via a bulletin board anymore. I post something on Facebook and anyone who is connected to the Lake Bennington page knows about it.”
Tech and social media are increasing visitorship to lands across the nation. With more people seeking that perfect view of a lake, or a panorama from a peak their friend posted, land managers are refocusing and rethinking how they manage land for more visitors.
Last year, Bennington Lake saw 300,000 visits to the 600-acre parcel. It’s more than they’ve had in the past, but Jeremy says the increase in visitorship is under control. "We will continue to manage for multiple users while always looking for ways to improve the experience for each groups."but it still doesn't feel too crowded. And Jeremy still enjoys stepping out on trail, whether it's for work or for play.
“When I first got into this work, being out on trail was mostly recreational. Once it became my job, I realized that being on trail helps me unwind from the office part. I’d still say my job is a walk in the park.
Want to keep your favorite places looking just like you saw them? Here are five tips for sharing your latest trip on Instagram, Facebook or any other social media outlet.