Two crews from the Siskiyou Mountain Club have been part of an ongoing summer effort to help clear trails in the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area, including several closed for years by fallen trees and other obstacles.

Recent trail clearing efforts, which ended for the season Wednesday, had been focused in the northern third of the wilderness, including the Halifax and McKie trails. But smoke from ongoing forest fires, including the Red Blanket fire, forced them to move south into Sky Lakes' Seven Lakes Basin.

"It's close to home," Trevor Meyer of Medford said of why he signed up for a summer of trail work. "All these projects are in my backyard so I feel like I'm giving back to my community."

Echoing Meyer's thoughts was Amalie Dieter of Talent, who recently graduated from Southern Oregon University with degrees in environmental science and policy and English and writing. "Now that I'm in Southern Oregon, I wanted to explore and understand the region."

Dieter, Meyer and other members of a six-member crew were interviewed last week on the Pacific Crest Trail while backpacking to a temporary camp near Honeymoon Creek. During the summer they worked 10 days on, four days off. They also worked in the Red Butte, Kalmiopsis and Siskiyou wildernesses.

In coordination with the other Siskiyou Mountain Club team of five, they have opened tree-clogged trails on Sky Lakes' west side, including a loop that began along the Middle Fork Trail out of Prospect. Group leader Valentin Chavez said the usual routine for the crew, known as SMC Chavez, was waking up at 6 or 6:30, eating breakfast and spending eight hours on trail maintenance.

"It was out of my comfort zone," said Chavez, who lives in Los Angeles, of why he began working for SMC on wilderness trails last year.

Trail work is challenging. Because the crew doesn't have pack support, meals are from lightweight but often tasteless dehydrated foods. Along with personal gear, team members also carry their trail clearing equipment, including two single-person and one double crosscut saws, pick axes, three Pulaskis, a rock bar, wedges, clippers and handsaws.

"This job forces you to push yourself and push your limits," said Karly White, who has family in Portland, noting she gains a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from helping to open trails. "It's like a victory going back to camp every day. Also, you get a lot of time to think being out here in the woods."

"I love being outside and I like working on a project that allows other people to get outside," said Rebecca Weber, who lives in Indiana but is taking time off before graduate school.

"For me, I don't want to be complacent," said John Maglinao of South Lake Tahoe. "Being out and opening these trails allows people to not be complacent. It's important work."

"We've been fortunate to have real good crews," Gabe Howe, SMC's executive director, said of SMC Chavez and the other crew. He said grants from REI and the Wilderness Stewardship Fund have helped pay for the work, which has been coordinated with the Rogue River-Siskiyou and Fremont-Winema national forests. Crew members earned $40 a day and are eligible for $2,000 scholarships that can be used for college costs or education-related debt relief.

SMC staff had been working with the Forest Service for two years on plans for clearing trails in Sky Lakes, especially those damaged or closed following the massive 2008 Middle Fork Fire, this and next summer. Howe said the organization, which has an annual budget of $180,000, includes a year-round staff person, 12 seasonals and 60 volunteers. The group is responsible for 230 miles of trails with a mission "to restore, maintain and promote primitive trails in the Siskiyou backcountry, and to provide outdoor service opportunities for the public."

For more information on the Siskiyou Mountain Club, visit the group's Facebook page or contact Howe at gabe@siskiyoumountainclub.org.

— Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.