Feat for feet
JACKSONVILLE — Hope Robertson winds down the freshly cut trail enrapt by the rare high-elevation junipers and eye-popping lupines at her feet before she pops out into a sloping meadow where she can do nothing but look skyward.
Grayback Mountain, the Red Buttes Wilderness Area, Dutchman Peak and myriad ridges and valleys between them all hang in the spring sunlight like a scenic backdrop along the slopes of Anderson Butte southwest of Medford.
"This view really is sensational," says Robertson, president of the Siskiyou Upland Trails Association. "This gives you a flavor of what we have going on. And you have this view for the next mile and a quarter."
These vistas will be open for public consumption as early as next month with the coming-out party of this new chunk of the long-mused Jack-Ash Trail envisioned to link Jacksonville and Ashland with 50 miles of trails for hikers, bikers and horse-riders.
SUTA volunteers are putting the finishing touches on 4.7 miles of new trail scratched into the rocky hillsides of Anderson Butte that anchor a series of trails and forest roads to create a 15-mile section of the Jack-Ash Trail.
The various trailheads, which historically are the last pieces cut so the curious public doesn't stumble onto them before completion, will be cut in and signed this month, and then it will go live when the Bureau of Land Management — as principal landowner and trail manager — signs off on it.
The new path includes a series of single-track trails and existing roads linking the two ends of the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail, which is another SUTA project, from roughly the Griffin Lane area to Little Applegate Road.
This initial phase of the long-term, two-phase project is the middle section of the Jack-Ash Trail plan that eventually will tie in to Jacksonville Woodlands trails and Ashland's trail system up to Wagner Gap to create a 50-mile trek for nonmotorized users to hike their ashes off.
"Long-distance runners, for sure, are looking for 50-mile routes going between one piece of civilization to another," says SUTA member and trail volunteer Jim Reiland.
The work, which began last fall, has been done by a mix of volunteers and a 15-person crew hired by SUTA. It was laid out by retired Forest Service employee Duane Mallams after first being studied and vetted by BLM.
It cost more than $50,000, of which about $37,000 came from a federal grant used largely to pay for what Robertson called a top-notch and experienced trail crew gleaned from the local community.
"Everyone really bought into what we're doing here," Robertson says.
The new trail contains nine switchbacks, each fortified with more than a ton of rocks to withstand the pounding from feet, bicycle tires and hooves.
"The rock work is designed to look like it's always been here," Reiland says.
The steep terrain through the juniper, oaks and lush butte-side meadows made for tough sledding for the crews and volunteers, but they managed to create a meandering path toward views that will have hikers constantly looking at the Siskiyou skyline without noticing the dust on their boots.
"As soon as we start getting use, it won't look so raw," Robertson says.
The trail includes rocks and other small obstacles visitors will encounter to "slow them down" and keep the trail from turning into a track, Robertson says.
Tying into the network of BLM roads — some open to vehicles, some not — is a stark reality of trying to create trail continuity amid a densely roaded landscape in a patchwork of federal and private lands.
"It's not our first choice to have people on roads," Robertson says. "But with the cost of building trails and maintenance, it's called 'practicality.' "
Over time, however, Robertson envisions new trail work to bypass some of the roadways once the entire initial trail is complete and all the vistas between Jacksonville and Ashland are realized.
"There's just so much to be excited about this trail," Robertson says. "There are just so many different things to look at here."