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Trail builders

The views are incredible from viewpoints along the Spence Mountain Trail, Southern Oregon's newest network of trails. Depending on the vantage, the panorama can include Mount Shasta, Upper Klamath Lake, the Cascades peaks surrounding Crater Lake and Mount McLoughlin.

"It's even better than we imagined," said Drew Honzel, a member of the Klamath Trails Alliance, the Klamath Falls-based outdoor group that's developing Spence Mountain, of sights along and from the trail.

Creating trails at Spence Mountain, located about 15 miles west of Klamath Falls and 65 miles east of Medford off Highway 140, is just part of a long-range effort by the Trials Alliance. The volunteer group also continues to upgrade 15 to 20 miles of trails in Klamath Falls' Moore Park and has ambitious plans for a Great Klamath Circle, a 150- to 200-mile loop trail that will connect Klamath Falls with Crater Lake National Park, Collier Memorial State Park and the OC&E Woods Line State Trail.

For the past two years, however, the focus has been on Spence Mountain. Fundraising and grants have allowed professional trail builders to finish seven miles of trails and rough-in another two miles. When crews from Dirt Mechanics of Bend return next spring, they'll finish off work to create a 12-mile loop. That's just the beginning. Honzel said the long-range plan calls for a 50-plus miles of hiking, running and mountain biking trails.

Honzel said cost for building the trail is about $9,000 a mile, with money coming from ongoing fundraising efforts, Klamath County tourism grants and, most recently, donations from Muffler King in Klamath Falls and the Linkville Lopers Running and Walking Club.

Along with expansive views, the trail meanders through pine, cedar and fir forests. It's quickly become a go-to trail for Klamath Basin mountain bikers and hikers and, with recent snow, cross-country skiers and snowshoers. Honzel and Trails Alliance President Dennis Taugher said it's hoped the existing and future trails will boost tourism by attracting out-of-area mountain bikers.

"Our goal is for 20 miles of trails," Honzel said. "I think that mileage, along with the trails in Moore Park, will attract the destination mountain bikers."

Paul Lissette of Dirt Mechanics describes the existing trail as a “new school” or flow trail. It features banked turns and sections where mountain bikers can elect to “flow” or more slowly work their way over steep embankments, including one that goes over a large boulder and another made from cedar planks. He said the features, which drop up to 18 inches, are designed to allow downhill mountain bikers to either roll or flow.

“For the most part it should be sustainable,” Lissette said of building the trail so it can be easily maintained in future years by Trails Alliance volunteers, noting Dirt Mechanics workers use rakes to smooth out trail sections after small excavation machines cut and create trail.

Taugher said interest in the Trails Alliance has been steady, growing from 75 members in 2014 to 85 in 2015, in part because of the interest in Spence Mountain. He said members do more than pay annual dues, noting volunteers have provided about 850 hours maintaining and building trails this year, up from 650 hours in 2014. "We obviously have a bunch of people who don't mind hard work, even on cold days."

John Bellon, the parks manager for the city of Klamath Falls, echoes Taugher's thoughts.

"This is the most highly functioning volunteer organization that I have seen in Klamath Falls," Bellon said of the Trails Alliance. "For an on-your-own, standalone volunteer organization, you are the cream of the crop. You are the most motivated. You took off on your own and you're making things happen."

Information about the Klamath Trails Alliance, along with maps of hiking and road bicycling routes in Klamath County, is available at the Trails Alliance's website at www.rideklamathride.com, the group's Facebook page or by writing Klamath Trails Alliance, P.O. Box 347, Klamath Falls, OR 97601.

The Great Klamath Circle is envisioned as a loop trail for non-motorized recreation. The route will circle Upper Klamath Lake, linking Klamath Falls with the Running Y Ranch Resort, the Mountain Lakes and Sky Lakes wilderness areas, Lake of the Woods, Crater Lake National Park, Collier Memorial State Park, Swan Lake rim and the OC&E Woods Line State Trail.

The long-term vision for the Great Klamath Circle — the distance is expected to be about 150 to 200 miles, depending on the final route — depends on linking existing access points, roads and trails along with creating new rails and features. Discussions have been ongoing with various agencies, including the Fremont-Winema National Forest, Bureau of Land Management, Klamath Tribes, Oregon State Parks, Oregon Department of Forestry and private land owners.

A 4-mile section of the route, the Klamath Ridge View Trail, was completed in 2011. Oregon State Parks has created a section from Kimball State Park and Collier, while the OC&E Woods Line has been in existence for several years.

Lee Juillerat has been writing about outdoor adventures in Southern Oregon and elsewhere for more than 30 years. He is also a regular contributor to the outdoor-travel website High On Adventure at www.highonadventure.com. He can be contacted at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

One of the many great views from Spence Mountain, where the Klamath Trails Alliance has been building new trails. Photo by Drew Honzel
Klamath Trail Alliance volunteers put the finishing touches on a stretch of trail on Spence Mountain. Photo by Lee Juillerat