By JAYSON JACOBY
Sections of several hiking trails in the Elkhorn and Wallowa mountains were improved this summer — and in one case, revealed — thanks to a new partnership between The Trailhead in Baker City and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
The Trailhead Stewardship Project’s goal is to maintain and improve mountain trails that have suffered from infrequent maintenance over the past decade or more.
The Trailhead is the bike, hike and ski shop opened several years ago in downtown Baker City by Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort.
The private, nonprofit corporation that owns the ski area, in the Elkhorns 35 miles northwest of Baker City, has been expanding its operations beyond the winter season in the past several years.
The corporation has contracts with the Forest Service to operate the three campgrounds in the Anthony Lakes recreation area, as well as Union Creek campground on Phillips Reservoir and three other campgrounds in the Sumpter Valley.
Anthony Lakes has also opened its day lodge for lunches and dinners during the summer, and built a downhill mountain bike trail.
Peter Johnson, Anthony Lakes general manager, conceived the Trailhead Stewardship Project after a frustrating experience hiking the overgrown Cunningham Cove trail, on the west side of the Elkhorns southwest of Anthony Lakes.
Or, rather, trying to hike the trail.
The combination of brush and downed logs and erosion made it all but impossible to find the trail in places, Johnson said.
The Trailhead Stewardship Project got started this summer with Victoria Mitts as the paid employee.
Four volunteers also helped improve sections of several trails, said Megan Keating, operations coordinator at The Trailhead. The crew put in a total of 251.25 hours of trail work this summer, Keating said.
Mitts’ first task, appropriately enough, was the very trail that convinced Johnson that action was needed.
Mitts cut more than 70 logs that spanned the Cunningham Cove trail. She also trimmed the snowbrush, a chaparral-like shrub, that had crowded, and in some places spanned, the narrow trail tread.
Snowbrush has grown in profusion since the 1996 Sloans Ridge fire burned much of the land that the trail traverses.
Keating said The Trailhead has received reports of a few big trees falling across the Cunningham Cove trail recently, and the goal is to cut those trees before winter.
In addition to cutting logs and doing other annual maintenance tasks that the Forest Service used to handle before its recreation budgets dwindled, the Trailhead Stewardship Project has a website — www.thetrailheadbakercity.com — where hikers and other trail users can report problems on trails.
That information will help Mitts and volunteers focus on trails that most need attention, Johnson said.
The Trailhead Stewardship Project’s other major efforts this summer included:
Dutch Flat trail, Elkhorns
Workers rebuilt sections of the trail on the cut logs on the steep, rocky areas above Dutch Flat Lake, and in another stretch about six miles from the lower trailhead, Keating said. The 10-mile trail starts near the Anthony Lakes Highway and ascends the glacier-carved Dutch Flat valley to Dutch Flat, one of the larger alpine meadows in the Elkhorns, and Dutch Flat Lake. The trail connects with the Elkhorn Crest National Recreation Trail at Dutch Flat Saddle, about 3½ miles south of Anthony Lakes.
Summit Lake trail, Elkhorns
The workers cleared logs and other debris on both sections of this trail — from the North Powder River Road to the lake itself, and from the lake to the upper trailhead at Cracker Saddle, above Bourne.
Peavy Trail, Elkhorns
Workers cut trees and trimmed encroaching brush on the entire length of this four-mile trail, which starts at the same trailhead as Cunningham Cove trail.
The Sloans Ridge fire burned across most of the route of the Peavy trail, and it, like the Cunningham Cove trail, has been plagued by falling trees.
The Trailhead Stewardship Project crew also installed garbage cans at the trailhead and restained the sign kiosk there and at the Elkhorn Crest trailhead near Anthony Lake. Dog waste bags, and trash cans, are also available at the Elkhorn Crest trailhead.
The 23-mile Elkhorn Crest trail, which runs from Anthony Lake to Marble Creek Pass west of Baker City, is among the more popular routes in the range.
Workers also cut trees along the Hoffer Lakes trail, a heavily used route that climbs about half a mile from Anthony Lakes to a pair of smaller lakes.
Another project was clearing logs and brush from the Two Dragon trail, a formerly abandoned but reconstructed trail, popular with mountain bikers, near Grande Ronde Lake.
Martin Bridge trail, Wallowas
This project was as much about reviving a trail as it was about maintaining one.
This trail, in the southern Wallowas, follows Eagle Creek between Eagle Forks campground, north of Richland, and Martin Bridge.
Keating said the crew started at the campground and made it about five miles before the trail tread in effect disappeared. Up to that point, workers cleared patches of brush that obscured the trail and cut many fallen trees.
Keating has asked the Forest Service to survey the rest of the route, and hang flagging to mark the tread, so the Trailhead Stewardship Project can finish clearing the trail to Martin Bridge.
“We have some great momentum going and would love to finish this project this year if possible,” Keating wrote in an email to Teresa Fraser, recreation program manager for the Wallowa-Whitman.
For the rest of the summer and into the fall, Keating said Mitts and volunteers will respond to trail problems in the Elkhorns reported on the website or elsewhere.
Another goal is to come up with a plan for priority projects for the summer of 2022.