This is outrageous and needs to stop. We have many months before Great Basin solicits its workers fornext year. All I can think of is to go to the FS and ask them to supervise this project more carefully. What do you suggest? How. Much further is Great Basin's work funded? Should we start a petition to engage thew FS more, require a cleanup, take the project away from them? Please detail your ideas and suggestions.
In a nutshell: the project's management needs to be immediately replaced by a community-based team like the one that got it going in the first place. This started out as a community project, and was hijacked by people who had nothing to do with getting it off the ground. The hijack needs to stop, and the people who did the hijacking need to be held accountable.
Here's a letter I wrote to the editor of the Elko Daily Free Press that I didn't send in for publication, for a variety of reasons.
I hear through the grapevine that the current managers of the Secret-Lamoille Trail Project are nearly out of funds and are looking to the community to help pay for the project. Here are some numbers that you might find interesting:
The Great Basin Institute is doing the trail construction based on an agreement with the US Forest Service. It costs approximately $15,000 for a Great Basin Institute “tour” on the project. Each “tour” is described as six work days, two travel days for a crew of ten college-aged kids, most of whom have little to no trail-building experience. In other words, it is costing the project $250/workday for an inexperienced worker to drive out from Reno and build trail. The best part, though, is that these kids are all Americorps volunteers so very, very little of the money is going to them. I really don’t care what GBI says to justify themselves… we can build this project much, much more cost effectively than what GBI is doing.
The money for this project was raised by members of the Elko community as part of the very hard work that went into getting this project off of the ground. This project was never intended to be a 100% hand-built trail. Quite on the contrary, project organizers spent a tremendous amount of time looking for alternative construction methods and building up a corps of community volunteers to get the work done. Unfortunately, neither the Great Basin Institute nor the then-new recreation planner for the Ruby Mountain Ranger District were interested in pursuing the community’s vision for the project. In the words of the USFS recreation planner last year: “My relationship with GBI is more important than building a cost-effective project.”
We see the result on the hillside. The construction work on the trail is shoddy at best. Much of it will have to be redone. The switchbacks are unsustainable and largely unrideable by the mountain bikes and pack strings the trail is supposed to serve. The money that should have been more than adequate to take the trail from Lamoille Canyon to Talbot Canyon, if the project was managed as it was originally conceived, is gone and the trail is significantly less than half complete. And they’re now coming to us asking for more?
This trail will be a tremendous asset to the Elko community when it’s finished. It’s already seeing a lot of use all year long, and will see more as time goes by. It is very much in the community’s best interest to see this project through. At a minimum, though, the community should insist that the project be managed by people we can trust not to squander our energy, our money, and our volunteer efforts. The management team for the project, as well as the Great Basin Institute, needs to be held accountable and immediately replaced by a community-based team with the entrepreneurial vision to understand what a real community partnership looks like.
GBI was the grantholder on the project, after the Northeastern Nevada Stewardship Group decided that there was too much money involved for it to handle. However, just because GBI was the grantholder and fiscal agent for the project did NOT mean that they had to provide all of the labor and all of the oversight for the project. That was never what was intended when Bill and I wrote the grant, and that's where the problem came in.
Originally, our GBI partner was Bill Wolf, a long-time Elko resident and a believer in the strength of this community. He is a good man and was very, very behind the community's vision for the project. Unfortunately, GBI closed the Ely office where Bill was based, and brought all of Bill's projects to Reno for management. So, not only did we lose Bill from the project, but we lost control of the money.
We also lost the USFS recreation planner who started the project with us. The woman who replaced him is a very nice person, extremely well meaning and very much behind the project - but she'd never built a trail before. Not only that, she'd never worked as a USFS recreation person before, never mind managing the recreation programs in three ranger districts! In my opinion, the executive director of GBI used her inexperience and Bill's departure to take control of the project. He hired one of his buddies to "oversee" the construction, and said buddy drives out from Reno every couple of weeks to "oversee" what's going on. That's just about all the supervision these kids are getting. The USFS has had some summer crews out there, too, but they don't have a whole heck of a lot more experience than the GBI kids do. The USFS rec planner is pretty well lost without GBI to get her projects done, because she doesn't know enough to understand the alternatives available to her.
And here we are.
I don't know where we are with the money because I have not been involved with the project since GBI's coup. They didn't want me around, either, for obvious reasons. I made a LOT of noise about where this was all going, and was eventually told by GBI to back off. Since I got no support from the folks at the USFS, I did. My continued involvement at that point would have been useless.
Here's a blog post I did at that time:
So long, and thanks for all the fish
My understanding is that GBI has scrounged up enough money to go for a while next summer, and that's it. However, what they've scrounged, combined with what this community can bring to the table and with some new resources from the state USFS office, should be able to get us a whole lot closer to done with the first segment, anyway.
My suggestion would be this: Immediately get a committee of trail-friendly locals involved in overseeing all aspects of this project: one from the hiking community, one from the equestrian community, one from the mountain bike community. Make sure at least one of those people has significant project management experience. I would suggest Bill Wolf, since he's intimately familiar with both the community, the project, and GBI. Get rid of the "buddy" immediately, and if GBI doesn't want to be the fiscal agent any more, so be it. NNSG or the Great Basin Trails Alliance can assume that role. Bid the project out to the trailbuilding community and bring on an experienced trail boss to manage construction. The labor for the project can come from paid NDF crews, who work a lot more efficiently than GBI crews as well as a LOT less expensively, as well as local volunteers. It should be bid to GBI and other, similar entities to see if they can do it more cost-effectively. I doubt it but you don't know if you don't ask. And by using community volunteers we can get locals trained up in trailbuilding techniques - useful down the road when it comes time to maintain this trail or build new ones.
There are likely other ways of getting this done but we'll never know as long as GBI is controlling the project. Certainly we won't end up with the community buy-in needed for this and other projects down the road. Having a strong, experienced team of community trail builders will help us immensely, not only with projects in the Rubies, but with trailbuilding at the SnoBowl and other possibilities that may present themselves in the future.