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Forest Service wants to share stewardship with trail users

The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest is embarking on its version of a national trail initiative meant to share maintenance of local trails with those who use them.

To kick off the Forest Service’s local “All Lands, All Hands” approach to trail management, the Rogue-Siskiyou forest is looking to learn what trails are most important to local users and get a grasp of who is working on the side to help maintain portions of its 1,400 miles of trails.

Forest recreation officials are reaching out to a growing conglomeration of trail associations as well as individual hikers to generate a coordinated trail maintenance effort that can’t be created on Forest Service budgets alone.

“It’s a meeting of the minds,” forest spokeswoman Chamise Kramer said.

“It’s to see who is working where, where each group’s priorities are and build on it from there,” Kramer said.

To kick off the local effort, an open house will run from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, May 3, at the Medford Interagency Office, 3040 Biddle Road, Medford.

A similar open house held April 11 in Gold Beach saw about 30 individual hikers and association representatives, said Julie Martin, the forest’s recreation program manager.

Gabe Howe, founder and executive director of the Sisikiyou Mountain Club, said the vision of coordinating hikers, mountain bikers, snowmobilers, equestrian riders and others using the forest is “totally in reach.”

“People don’t want to move mountains, they just want to keep some trails open,” Howe said. “There’s so much pent-up energy in these trail groups to tap into.

“I don’t think what we want as a collective is all that crazy,” Howe said.

The national strategy is in response to the National Forest System Trail Stewardship Act passed by Congress in November 2016. It stresses a six-pronged approach that focuses on maintaining and enhancing trails favored by the public and getting those users to pitch in to make that happen.

The strategy includes partnering with groups and individuals to maximize trail stewardship and ensure hikers and trail riders get up-to-date, credible information about those trails.

“At this point, it’s about identifying what’s there, what’s important and how we can get to that sustainability,” Martin said.

Nationally, the Forest Service is home to 158,600 miles of motorized and non-motorized trails visited by 84 million people annually, according to the Forest Service. Recreation on National Forest lands generates more than $9 billion in annual visitor spending, supporting 143,000 jobs, the agency said.

Locally, the Rogue-Siskiyou forest has a dedicated budget of about $110,000 for trails, “which doesn’t go very far when you have 1,400 miles of trails,” Martin said.

The local national forest also relies on grants that it or partners such as the Siskiyou Mountain Club receive for specific trail work, such as trail clearing last summer in the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area and, most recently, bridge repair in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area.

Martin said the forest is in the early stages of developing this system. She said there are no plans to close trails, but also did not rule that out.

Torsten Heycke from the Ashland Watershed Trails Association said his group “heartily embraces” the notion of shared stewardship of Forest Service trails.

“Trail work is tangible and gratifying, and empowers people to make a difference,” Heycke said.

However, Heycke said, he personally is concerned about the possibility of the trails system being sold for corporate financial sponsorships in the future.

“Will we be walking the ‘Pepsi Trail’ or riding the ‘River Trail, brought to you by Proctor and Gamble?” Heycke said in an email. “That’s maybe an extreme notion, but it should be clear that this is not quid pro quo.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.