Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Roads to Trails
Can you bank on them?

One of the last projects that the late great Ira Spring worked on was a Roads to Trails Book in cooperation with the Washington Trails Association. Published in 2002, Ira saw that the glory days of trail building and funding for the US Forest Service was over-and that they were probably not ever going to come back. Since 1990, the Forest Service has been rapidly diminished in its scope and work force. Timber production has been greatly curtailed resulting in very little money being allocated by Congress (under both parties) for road construction (to reach trails) and for trail construction and maintenance itself. The result in the last 20 years is that we are losing trails. Ira saw that perhaps as the Forest Service abandoned many of its roads (roads that were built primarily to access timber) that they would be good candidates to be converted into trails. A great concept indeed-except for a couple of problems-

Many roads simply don't access areas that are of interest to most hiking enthusiasts.
Roads can be a drag to walk-especially when they wash out and their beds become strewn with rocks.
Roads need to be maintained too-even as trails-and in just 10 short years after abandonment a road can be cloaked in alders and other greenery rendering it pretty darn difficult to hike

Recently I blew some dust off of that old Roads to Trails book to see if there were any gems in there worth exploring. Many of the highlighted roads held no interest to me-and many others have already been either fully obliterated or cloaked in greenery. Point is that even a great concept as roads to trails still requires budgets in the form of hacking back encroaching plants.

I did however zone in on one particular walk. Jumpoff Ridge seemed like an interesting candidate-and in fact it turned out to be-except that the views that Ira's crew railed about back in 2002 are going fast. Now it wouldn't take much to get them back-just a crew of two or three people with some loppers and saws. We have to assess as a hiking community, do we want to keep any of these routes open-and if we do, we need to incorporate them into our hiking agendas and maintain them. A hike like Jumpoff Ridge just outside of Index can certainly draw hikers and be a nice alternative to very busy nearby Lake Serene. I encourage you to check it out and and decide whether road-trails like Jumpoff Ridge should be part of or trail inventory. Stay tuned for this week's for the full scoop on hiking Jumpoff Ridge.

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