Gateway to the great outdoors
The Siskiyou Mountain Club has earned a name for itself in the past eight years by wielding crosscut saws, Pulaskis, shovels and loads of elbow grease to reopen many miles of remote hiking trails in Southern Oregon.
Now the Ashland-based organization is taking another step in its mission of making the outdoors more accessible by opening the Siskiyou Hiking Center, set for a grand opening from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, March 2, in the Underground Marketplace at 33 Third St., No. 7, in Ashland.
Staffed with volunteers from the nonprofit club, the hiking center will serve as a resource and starting point for people looking for anything from a short day hike to a multiday backpacking trek, said SMC Executive Director Gabriel Howe, who helped found the club in 2010.
“Our mission is to restore, maintain and promote primitive trails in the Siskiyou backcountry,” Howe said. “We look for places in federal wilderness areas, so typically they’re very remote, hard to get to and hard to work in, and then we bring those trail systems back to life.”
Howe said the organization maintains about 250 miles of trails in the Wild Rogue, Kalmiopsis, Red Buttes, Siskiyou, Sky Lakes and Soda Mountain wilderness areas.
A new line of hiking maps will be available at the hiking center, color-coded based on current conditions.
“We try to create community events as an entry into our work,” Howe said.
The grand opening falls during a first Friday art walk, and photographs by Trevor Meyer, a SMC intern, will be available for viewing and purchase. There will also be beer, wine, snacks and membership deals.
The club operates an internship program that allows recruits to go into some of the region's most remote areas for 10 days at a time during the summer to restore trails with hand tools, as mechanized tools aren’t allowed in wilderness areas. An academic component requires interns to write essays and read related materials. However, they receive a tuition reimbursement of $2,000 after the internship is complete.
Some interns have become staff members, Howe said.
According to Mac Jefferson, volunteer board director, there’s high demand for hiking trails in the area, and the backwoods thoroughfares benefit Southern Oregon’s economy.
“Tourism is one of the big economic engines for Southern Oregon, and a big subset of that is hiking, so maintaining that is a huge boon to the economy in Southern Oregon and is well recognized by the governor’s office and the Forest Service,” Jefferson said.
According to Howe, an Oregon State University study found that trails alone add $574 million to the Oregon economy annually.
“Trails are kind of like the arteries of our forests, and people engage with public lands from trails,” Howe said. “And when you start to lose those, and those arteries become clogged, the lifeblood of that forest slows down and communities start to lose their connection with those places and, over time, if you have a trail that becomes derelict … people stop coming … and that place loses its voice.”
There are other groups in Oregon that keep up trails, but budgets for this line of work have decreased over the past 20 years, Howe said. That means agencies have to prioritize the easiest-to-access and most-used areas, which is why a lot of the backcountry trails aren't maintained.
“The PCT is cool, but I’m going to try to find places that are remote, and special, and very wild, and those places are the ones that get forgotten first,” Howe said.
Funding for the organization comes from donations from SMC's 600-plus members, along with grants. Community contributions — and a large donation from the property owners — financed the hiking center, Howe said.
The hiking center will host small informational gatherings and meetings for community events and trip planning. It will essentially be a pilot program, with hopes of opening others, Jefferson said.
“We’re surrounded by public lands, and I think this is a community defined by people who appreciate wilderness,” Howe said. “And you have a vibrant downtown area here, where it’s a natural environment to get the masses engaged in what we’re doing.”
People looking to pitch in with trail projects can check out the volunteer calendar on the SMC website at www.siskiyoumountainclub.org. Work trips range from a day to a week in the backcountry. The club also offers guided hiking trips to showcase the work members have done. They also publish articles and trail guides about the trails they maintain.
— Contact Ashland freelance writer Caitlin.firstname.lastname@example.org.