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Wild Side: Lots of happy trails in the Applegate area

Spring has sprung! Streams are gushing. The meadows are lush. The flowers are popping. It’s time to hit the trail!

I lived for a spell in the Applegate Valley, just west of Ashland, and it is still one of my favorite places to explore. I’ve done a lot of off-trail hiking there, often surveying public land for timber sales and restoration projects. It can be a brushy affair, and there’s no shortage of that godforsaken poison oak.

Lucky for all you hikers out there, new trails are being constructed right and left on public lands in the Applegate that offer stunning views of some of the most beautiful country you’ll ever see. If you stay on the trail, you can avoid exposure to all the gnarly poison oak! These low-elevation forests are perfect for springtime explorers wanting to get out but unable to get up to the high Siskiyous, still covered in snow and inaccessible.

The folks at the Applegate Trail Association have been working hard and now the first phase of the Applegate Ridge Trail (ART), this 5.6 mile “East ART Trail” is complete and most certainly worth a visit. Hikers of the ART will be rewarded with phenomenal ridgetop views of the eastern Applegate.

The trail will connect to the Jack-Ash Trail being constructed by the Siskiyou Upland Trails Association to offer a multi-use trail between Jacksonville and Ashland. Eventually, the East ART will also connect west to the Center, North, and West ARTs. While these segments have not yet been constructed, I am very excited! Eventually this trail system will offer seamless hiking, biking, or equestrian adventuring from Ashland to all the way to Cathedral Hills near Grants Pass. Note: The North ART will also connect to the JV Forest Park trail system and the Jack-Ash will eventually connect to the PCT.

The Center ART will take hikers through one of the real low-elevation wild places left in the lower Applegate. Known as Wellington Wildlands, this nearly 6,000-acre wild and roadless area is named after the 3,705 foot Wellington Butte in the center of the wildlands. It is rare to have such a large block of intact wildlands at this low elevation, and knowing the real gem in their backyard, local activists have been fighting to protect this area for decades.

While much of the Wellington Wildlands is open forest and dry slopes filled with hardwoods like oak and madrones, there are also stands of ceanothus and manzanita. Near the streams there are enormous Douglas fir and ponderosa pine forests.

Unfortunately, the BLM’s Ashland Resource Area is currently planning a timber sale in the Wellington Wildlands and targeting the hidden stands of conifer forests. While the Center ART is not yet constructed, the Middle Applegate Timber sale is now planned and will likely include logging, possibly even road construction into the Wellington Wildlands.

This area has a long history of conservation efforts. It was even included in a bill by Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley as a “Primitive Backcountry Area.” Motivated by a need for timber, the BLM’s most recent plan for the Applegate denied protection for the Wellington Wildlands.

KS Wild will continue to work with Applegate locals on moving the BLM away from projects focusing on timber from the Wellington Wildlands and other special places and towards projects focusing on fuels reduction around homes and communities and restoring the forests that need work. One of the best ways to help these efforts is to get out on the trails that take you through these stunning wild places so you understand what’s at stake!

How to get there: You can access the East ART from just off of Sterling Creek Road. Turn right past the 4-mile marker on Sterling Creek Road. It is just 6/10 mile to the spacious trailhead; the trail follows the ridge all the way down to Highway 238. Currently there is no real trailhead at the west end on Hwy 238, but I know some hikers leave a car there so they can through-hike. Visit applegatetrails.org for up-to-date information.

If you are looking for more information about how BLM is managing their lands, visit kswild.org.

— Joseph Vaile is executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild, 541-488-5789, www.kswild.org). His Wild Side column appears every three weeks.