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New trail map tool updates backcountry conditions

A new online mapping tool will allow outdoor enthusiasts to get accurate and updated information on the condition of 300 miles of backcountry trials maintained by the Siskiyou Mountain Club.

The Siskiyou Trail Finder will be launched at a release party from 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, at Rogue Valley Runners, 161 E. Main St., in Ashland.

Ryan Ghelfi, creator of the tool, will give a presentation about how it works.

SMC Deputy Director Karly White said the web link will be available at the event.

Ghelfi is a SMC volunteer board member, and also the owner of Ashland-based running coach company Trails and Tarmac. Ghelfi, an ultra-runner, decided to scout trails for SMC during his runs. He then decided to digitize the information using a free mapping platform. He said it’s his hope that other ultra-runners in the valley will fill out trip reports when they go on long-distance runs to provide SMC with even more information.

“I saw an opportunity to make something that would help people see what kind of trails exist out there,” Ghelfi said. “There’s a lot of trails in the SMC footprint that you could go on right now at lower elevations with no snow. These are places you could visit on a Saturday, they’re close, and are some of the best opportunities in the wilderness.”

SMC Executive Director Gabriel Howe said it’s great to have board members who put in the time for projects like this, adding that this signifies a turning point for the 9-year-old organization.

“This was born from a sort of internal map used between staff members, and Ghelfi said, ‘Let’s make this more usable and bring it to the public,’” Howe said. “I think a lot of the work we’ve done has been quiet, and now we’re opening up more to the community to give people gentle reminders of the opportunities to explore in our region.”

White said by opening up the tool to the public, it creates an even wider community of trail scouts.

“This way we have a really great community of scouts who can tell us what areas need to be worked on, what logs are down, that kind of thing,” White said. “It’s kind of evolved into this even bigger project, where we’re going to give this map to the public.”

SMC maintains 300 miles of trails on a three-year rotation cycle in the Wild Rogue, Kalmiopsis, Siskiyou, Sky Lakes, Red Buttes and Marble Mountain wilderness areas, White said.

The new tool will provide information on the trails SMC maintains in these areas. The public will also have the option to fill out in-depth trip reports and geotag obstacles on the trail such as fallen trees. SMC will vet the trip reports before publishing the information.

The resolution used with the software will provide twice as much detail as a Forest Service map, White said. In addition, anyone can download the maps of specific trails onto their smartphones so they can be viewed in real time when out of cell-service range. It’s especially useful for trail runners who may not have the time to pull out a paper map, White said.

Ghelfi said the map also shows the incline for each trail, which is useful when planning how much time is needed to complete the trail.

“It takes the guessing out of what trail conditions will be like,” White said. “In southwest Oregon and northwestern California, you may be able to find these trails on a map, but they may not be maintained, and that’s why SMC started in the first place, because we went to hike these trails 10 years ago and realized that you can’t find them.”

White said the new tool also supports SMC’s 2019 campaign to “stay local.”

“We have these crazy views within an hour’s drive,” White said. “This is good for the environment, good for the community and good for us too, because we want people to walk our trails.”

People interested in how trail scouting works can attend a free program Saturday, Feb. 2. SMC will shuttle attendees from Ashland and Medford to the Red Buttes Wilderness for an informative hike on what SMC is looking for in the reports.

White said SMC will soon publish its own line of paper maps, too.

SMC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to maintaining, restoring and promoting primitive trails in the Siskiyou backcountry. The organization regularly hosts events in Ashland, leads volunteer-driven projects and hires interns and staff seasonally to complete demanding trail projects.

Interns receive a $1,200 monthly training stipend for July and August and can receive up to $1,000 in bonuses for college tuition assistance.

Staff make between $16 and $18 an hour, receive plenty of overtime and are eligible for health insurance.

To learn more about the organization, sign up to volunteer or to apply to work this year, see the SMC website at siskiyoumountainclub.org.

Contact Daily Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

A Siskiyou Mountain Club crew on their way to restore a wilderness trail in 2017. Photo courtesy of the Siskiyou Mountain Club