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Volunteers help restore wilderness trails

For Bill Van Moorhem, the reason he and others volunteered to spend days using crosscut saws, shovels, Pulaskis, hoes and other tools to improve trails in the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area was simple.

“We hike or ski close to 50 times year,” he said during a lunch break, “and it seems to me we should help work and improve the trails.”

Van Moorhem, a leader of the Klamath Basin Outdoor Group, was joined by Margo McCullough, Jerry Haugen and Sharon Leedham for maintenance work on the Pacific Crest Trail from the Seven Lakes Basin north to near the boundary with Crater Lake National Park. They were part of a larger group that included members of the High Cascades Trail Crew from the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, Fremont-Winema National Forest, and the Pacific Crest Trail Association. Volunteers from the High Desert Trail Riders Backcountry Horsemen helped transport gear in and out and provided a cook to fix meals.

“We got an incredible amount of work done,” said Ian Nelson, the PCTA’s regional representative, who spent portions of four days on the project. “This is an incredible partnership — it’s a wonderful team effort.”

“We’re out here more than we’re at home,” said Angie Painter, who was overseeing the High Cascades crew, which was finishing its fifth work stint of eight-days on, six-days off. “We’ve been trying to focus on the burn areas so they can stand up to any erosion that might happen this winter.”

Anthony Benedetti, who oversees 100-plus miles of trails in Fremont-Winema wilderness areas, noted the focus of last week’s work was on portions of the Pacific Crest Trail damaged by the 2017 High Cascades Complex fire near the Crater Lake boundary. Although scars from the extremely intense fire will be seen for years, he was happy that the trail was mostly in good condition. He noted there were fewer obstructions than in 2017, when they found trails clogged by hundreds of downed trees.

“It’s a lot lighter year for downed trees, so we’re catching up with that,” he said. “There’s still other work — trail clearing, brush work, area rehabilitation on trail tread caused by fires.”

Benedetti said the volunteer support was important.

“It’s cool that there are people interested in helping out,” he said.

Van Moorhem believes some potential volunteers might have turned away because of high temperatures and persistent smoke from regional wildfires. At the higher elevations near Ranger Springs — about 5,800 feet at the group’s campsite — skies were far clearer than in the Klamath Basin and Rogue Valley.

Making life easier for volunteers and paid trail crews were members of the High Desert Trail Riders, including Dick Strohkirch, Jim Collins, Brenda Teaford and Ron Stewart, who helped pack supplies in and out. But the person who won the trail workers’ hearts was Brenda Cordonnier, who, as she did last year, stayed at camp throughout the week to cook.

“I haven’t eaten this good in a long time,” said Painter, recalling Cordonnier’s homemade fried pies served a night earlier. Painter said she and her crew — Alyssa Baker, Connor Rogers and Andrew Gansler — had expected to eat their usual add-hot-water, freeze-dried meals, but Cordonnier had other plans.

“She said you can come eat with us. It’s the best food ever.”

“I love the mountains,” Cordonnier said. “When I come to the mountains, I feel like I’m coming home. I love to cook. My mother taught me how to cook for groups, and I love doing it.”

For Benedetti, last week’s trail maintenance effort was just part of an ongoing process. Depending on weather, more trail projects are planned in the Sky Lakes and Gearhart Mountain wildernesses. For information about volunteering, contact Benedetti at the Klamath Ranger District office at 541-885-3440 or by email at abenedetti@fs.fed.us.

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

Photo by Lee JuilleratWidening a section of trail in the Sky Lakes Wilderness are, from left, Margo McCullough, Jerry Haugen, Anthony Benedetti and Bill Van Moorhem.