Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Americorps and the kids from everywhere

Part of our partnership with the Great Basin Institute is that they're sending kids from Americorps/Nevada Conservation Corps to provide the backbone of the trail construction effort. This is a lot of trail, and even with the great community support we enjoy, we still need regular crews out there all summer to get things done.

I got a chance to meet these kids when they arrived yesterday - they're camping on our ranch - and they got a chance to meet the project today.

Mark Kimbrough from GBI, our new trail boss, welcomed them to the project and gave them an overview of what their lives will look like for the next few months. The kids then introduced themselves... they're from all over the country, some from overseas, most of them have never built trail before. They're all here because they saw the opportunity to go someplace new, to do something new, to get their hands dirty for a good cause.

We all took a walk up the corridor that the NDF guys had cleared... I pointed out a few landmarks for them, talked a bit about the history of the project and the valley. They were pretty interested in taking in the views - I think more than one of them was surprised to be working in such a lovely place.

After we walked to the end of the cleared corridor, I met up with the fire crews while the kids walked back to begin their long summer building trail. I don't think they're going to be too miserable - although they're likely to be a bit sore tomorrow morning.

Pinch me. It's finally becoming real.

What an amazing few days for the Secret-Lamoille Trail Project.

Last week, we got word from both the Nevada Division of Forestry and the Ruby Mountain Hot Shots that they'd be interested in volunteering for the project, using it to shake out their fire crews before the start of the summer fire season.

Man, what an offer. That's a lot of manpower right off the bat, AND it's a great opportunity for them to get some important pre-work training done for their crews. A real win-win.

That meant that we had to move into overdrive to get ready for their arrival. On Thursday and Friday, trail designer Greg Mazu set pinflags for much of the project, marking exactly where the tread would go. Mark Kimbrough from GBI, our new GBI trail boss, was on hand to get his arms around the thing, scoping the route and working with Greg on the final alignment. By Saturday, Greg was up above the snow line, so he marked trees for the fire crews and worked on the final alignment for the Talbot end of the project.

Lots of work, lots of walking, lots of thinking going into a great route.

On Sunday, I went out with biologist Kendra Olcott from JBR Environmental Consultants, along with her husband Jay, to look for migratory birds before the saws arrived. It's a late spring and we didn't see anything, but it was important to check and make sure we weren't destroying any nests while we went through. Kendra and Jay jumped in at the last minute... Rich Weber from JBR had been scheduled for this walk-through, but got stuck in an airport on the other side of the country. Thanks, guys, for being so incredibly cool and helping us out!

And then, it was Monday - and all of a sudden, we had something on the ground.

After seven years of work, the trail is finally under way!

The NDF crews did one hell of a job for us, clearing out brush, scraping a line, limbing and sometimes removing trees to make the clearance necessary for the folks who will use the trail. The trail needs 6' of horizontal clearance and 10' of vertical clearance so that horsemen and pack animals can safely get through. These guys moved steady, moved strong, moved with a smile on their faces. And more than one of them told me they'd like to come back and bring their kids to see the trail they helped build after their stint with NDF.

In the meantime, the Ruby Mountain Hot Shots went blazing by - man, those guys are amazing. They hustled a couple miles in and started working backwards, meeting up with the NDF crews as they worked their way up. Great cooperation and good practice for the fire season. They probably all went back to base when they were done and did a push-up contest or something, followed by an even 500 sit-ups or so. Just to make sure they got a good workout for the day.

With all of this hustle and bustle from the area's wildland fire crews, it was quite the whirlwind day. And yet... when everybody passed on by and the quiet came back, it was there.

The birdsong. And the genesis of a trail.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Groundbreaking June 4th, Trails Day June 5th - be there!

The Northeastern Nevada Stewardship Group is hosting official groundbreaking ceremonies for the project Friday, June 4th, 9AM, at the pullout above Powerhouse Picnic Grounds in Lamoille Canyon. Be there!

In addition, National Trails Day is June 5th (yes, that would be the next day). Bring your work gloves, your water and your enthusiasm - let's get some trail built! NDF and the Ruby Mountain Hotshots will be done clearing a corridor for us, so we can get down to work on building the tread. We'll have sign-up sheets available for future volunteer days, too, so you can schedule some time getting dirty for a great cause.

Even with the blustery spring, progress on the ground

Here's a big, big shout-out to the Nevada Division of Forestry and the Ruby Mountain Hot Shots - both groups volunteered crews to go out and do saw work, clearing a trail corridor for our construction crews!

This is a real win-win... NDF and the Hot Shots will use this project for training, getting ready for the summer fire season. The work they'll do clearing the corridor is very, very similar to what they'll need to do to clear fire lines. We'll have GBI and volunteer crew leaders along to make sure they follow the line of the trail, clearing what they're supposed to clear and dispersing the slash where it's supposed to go.

What a great contribution to the project - not only will it save us a lot of money, but it will allow us to leverage their big volunteer contribution to help us with fundraising in the future. A lot of the folks on these crews are locals, and I hope they take pride in the work they've done when they visit this trail 20 years from now.


Of course, this means that the rest of us are scrambling a bit, marking nests of migratory birds, marking the exact line of the trail, figuring out clearance and dispersal standards for the fire crews. It's a good scramble, though. The picture is of trail designer Greg Mazu from Singletrack Trails, marking the line for the firefighters this weekend. Thanks to Kendra from JBR Environmental for making sure we don't create problems for the birds with what we're doing.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Why we need more trails, and better access to the ones we have

A few people have questioned why we are going to the effort and expense of building new trails in the Rubies. Fair enough. This stuff ain't easy - there's a lot of effort and money going into this, and sane people could easily wonder why we're bothering.

Here's why.

Check out this link from the Humboldt-Toyabe National Forest website, outlining every trail in the Ruby Mountain ranger district, which includes the Rubies and the East Humboldts. There are a grand total of 108 miles of trails people can actually use in the Rubies and East Humboldts combined. That's it. In a 450,000-acre ranger district. And some of those trails are almost impossible to find if you're not a local- there are no trailheads or signage and the trails themselves are almost invisible. Some of them are so obscure that they don't even show up on USGS topographic maps. Several of the ones you CAN find are duplicates that access the same places.

See for yourself. Break out a calculator and do the math. Here's the link.

While you have your calculator out, add up the trails that ordinary folks are locked out of. 234 miles of trails that we can't access because they're behind locked gates.

If we can't get easements to access these trails, and landowners at the bottom of the canyons haven't been forthcoming in that regard, then we're going to have to build new trails so that we can legally get up into these mountains.

And, for what it's worth, one of my next volunteer goals will be to develop signage and trailheads for the few trails we actually CAN get to, as well as developing volunteer teams to get up there and do some trail maintenance and improvements. We're going to lose the very few trail miles we have if we don't roll up our sleeves and do something about it. Right now, many of those trails aren't much more than lines on maps - they're there legally but they often aren't there on the ground.

Seriously - click on the link and do the math yourself. Even I was surprised at how few trail miles in these mountains we can actually use.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The power of volunteers

Just got back from a trailbuilding conference/training put on by the Tahoe Rim Trail Association. Pretty amazing deal all the way around - it's impressive beyond belief to see what the volunteers there have been able to accomplish over the years.

I'm pretty beat - long drive back after a long day building trail - but I have to tell you - we have the potential here to build every bit as exciting organization, capable of getting this trail going as well as other trails all over these Ruby Mountains. All it takes is energy, cooperation, and a refusal to take "no" for an answer. I know we can do it - all we have to do is pitch in.