By: Adam And Sophia bogle
The Siskiyou Mountain Club
Let’s start off this month with a short history lesson about hiking trails. I promise there won’t be a test. The U.S.Forest Service began building trails for communication and fire fighting in the early 1900s. Then around 1930, the Hoover administration decided that recreational trails could be a valuable resource for Americans and so throughout the Great Depression the Civilian Conservation Corps, and other programs started building them. The Forest Service was chartered in 1905 and part of their founding mission was to assist with the growing popularity of hiking in the U.S. This focused mission helped Congress pass some extremely significant legislations in the 1960s, including the Wilderness Act and the Nation Wild And Scenic Rivers Act. But then came the Reagan years. Congress drastically cut the level of spending on trail maintenance so that by 2013 only 26% of all these constructed trails met the Forest Service standards for hike-ability.
And this is where the history lesson ends, and the story of Jillian Stokes and Gabriel Howe begins. Gabe and Jillian started exploring the Kalmiopsis Wilderness area (just west of us here in Ashland) after the Biscuit Fire in 2002. They would go out for fun and just started clearing trails on their own while they were out. Eventually they started recruiting friends to help them and that started the Siskiyou Mountain Club in 2009. Gabe and Jillian’s enthusiasm for the work is obviously infectious. They now supervise 1000s of volunteer hours and work on projects in six Federal Wilderness Areas in Southern Oregon. The closest trail to Ashland that they maintain is the Pilot Rock Trail. Sophia and I recently hiked to the top of Pilot Rock (before I knew of SMC), and we were both impressed by the quality of that trail.
But to me what is so impressive about the SMC is how far back into the wilderness they go to maintain and repair trails that have been neglected for decades.There are a lot of people who will volunteer and spend their time to maintain a trail for a day hike. But SMC will hike several days into the Wilderness to maintain trails that the average day hiker will never see. The SMC exists to save these unique outdoor resources and also to practice traditional forest skills to save trails and other recreation resources throughout southwest Oregon’s Siskiyou mountain range.
One of the best things about SMC is their emphasis on providing local youth with service opportunities, both volunteer and paid, through their Wilderness Conservation Corps. A majority of this work is done with interns from SOU in the summer. The trail crews work for ten days at a time. Several of those days are hiking into the work site, and then using old fashioned trail building tools to service the trails. The students are paid $40 per diem, plus $40 a day for tuition assistance the following year at SOU. The challenges for these interns teaches valuable life lessons and gives them great stories. “This isn’t just a job, “ says executive director Gabe Howe. “It’s a powerful experience students use as a spring board into working in the outdoors.”
Mikaela Lea was 18 when she hiked ten miles through what was described as a bone-soaking rain, along a steep and rugged trail in order to help resupply a trail crew working the area. Sort of a trial by fire (or rain in this case) but Mikaela came through it with flying colors and she would continue proving herself to SMC time after time. She says that the hard work part wasn’t new to her, but she really had to learn to communicate. “Because with this work you have to be vocal. I learned self discipline because I wanted to be hiking at the front of the pack.” She says that working for the summer with the SMC “was the best growth experience of my life. I reflect on it with nothing but happiness and positivity.”
Please check out the SMC website to see the work they have planned for 2016 and to become a member. Memberships in SMC start as low as $25. SMC depends on donations to finance their tuition reimbursement program. And members get invitations to member only hikes, Cascade-Siskiyou Monument maps, and more.
When they aren’t out saving our beautiful hiking trails, Gabriel Howe is a freelance writer with articles in the Mail Tribune and Oregon Coast Magazine and Jillian Stokes is a barista at our downtown Starbucks.
To contribute or find out more go to: www.SiskiyouMountainClub.org