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The Queen is back: Popular trail on Spence Mountain reopens

A steady chorus of rada-tat-tats, like unseen carpenters working in synchronicity. Sounds and sights of bushes suddenly and explosively fluttering. Birds as still as statues in distant tree tops.

The Queen of the Lake Trail, one of many in the Spence Mountain trail system, is known for its king-sized views of Upper Klamath Lake, but it’s a trail that offers much more.

The two-mile long trail, which begins at the Spence Mountain Trailhead off Highway 140 about 65 miles east of Medford, had been closed since the July 2020 Spence Mountain fire forced the closure of several trails, including The Queen. About a half-mile section of the trail had extensive damage, including rockfalls and falling timber. It reopened Sunday with Drew Honzel, Michael Schaaf and Elwyn Jacobson spending five hours doing finish work on the trail.

The trio are members of the Klamath Trails Alliance, an organization that has coordinated the development of 42 miles of trails at Spence. Since the July fire, volunteers have spent about 50 hours doing tread repair on The Queen, reinforcing rock sections and clearing fallen timber.

“The biggest challenge was really keeping it closed until we had adequate moisture and wind to dislodge weakened trees so it was safe,” Honzel said.

The South Ridge Trail, another Spence Mountain trail that was temporarily closed by the fire, reopened a few weeks after the blaze, while another trail, Hooligan, had minimal damage and reopened shortly after the fire.

Recent work on The Queen of the Lake Trail marked the beginning of what will likely be another year of extensive trail work. During 2020, KTA volunteers logged 1,568 hours of trail maintenance, the equivalent of 176 days and $39,000 in labor. Trail work was done on 108 miles of trails at Spence, Mount McLoughlin, Brown Mountain the Oregon Tech/Sky Lakes Medical Center Geo Trail and Moore Park.

Spence’s still growing trail network was increased by seven miles in 2020. Volunteers also installed 42 new trail signs at Spence Mountain and Moore Park, and built a new kiosk at Spence’s Shoalwater Bay Trailhead.

Plans for this year include a “flow trail” called Speed King, a one-way downhill trail that will roughly parallel the South Ridge Trail. Speed King will start off the South Ridge Trail. The first half mile will be rated difficult, or black, while the lower two miles will be rated intermediate, or blue. Honzel said a flow trail is a little wider than a traditional single track, features several turns/berms, small jumps, “and is built so you don’t have to use your brakes much. There will likely be a couple of connectors between the two trails to allow for smaller loops.”

Adding the Speed King means the area around Junction 1 and the trailhead will be reconfigured to separate downhill traffic from uphill traffic, which will require some short reroutes of Hooligan and South Ridge.

Also planned this year is a mile-long green, or easy, walking/biking loop out of the main Highway 140 trailhead. “This trail will be isolated from the rest of the system to minimize user conflicts,” Honzel said. “It should provide nice views and be a quiet place to spend a few minutes.”

The reopened Queen of the Lake is rated as difficult for mountain bikers and hikers. Because of its uneven, up and down terrain, hiking poles are recommended.

However it’s done, The Queen has become a regional favorite, because along with lake views, it can be an escape into nature.

So, what about those previously mentioned sounds and sights?

The hammering rada-tat-tats weren’t the sounds of carpenters but of busy white-headed woodpeckers that were especially prolific — and noisy — through the burned area. The frantic flutters from trailside bushes were the flapping sounds of nervous quail taking hurried flight. And the birds poised like statues were bald eagles, some perched like sentinels on distant snags and another perched on a branch atop a tree-top nest, where the head of an eaglet was barely visible.

The Queen is back.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

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Despite challenges, 2020 was productive

The Klamath Trails Alliance, which builds and maintains a network of trails in the Klamath basin, was productive in 2020.

Although some hoped-for grants didn’t materialize because of the pandemic — grant funding was down 35% from 2019 — the group still raised $119,000 through donations and other fundraising.

KTA spokesmen said those efforts “reflect strong community support” for the ever-growing trail network. KTA officials note the group has partnerships with 13 organizations and businesses, including Klamath Falls City Parks and Recreation, Oregon Institute of Technology, Sky Lakes Medical Center, Klamath County, Oregon Department of Forestry, JWTR, Dirt Mechanics, Terra Velo, Linkville Lopers Running Club, Discover Klamath, Healthy Klamath and Zach’s Bikes.

During 2020, KTA had hoped to raise $14,000 to match two large donations from KTA board member Mark Goodman and Zach’s Bikes. As of earlier this month, they had raised $17,754.

For information about KTA, see www.klamathtrails.org.

Hikers make their way through a burned area along the Queen of the Lake Trail. Photo by Lee Juillerat