There are more than 2,000 miles of hiking, biking and horseback trails on the Deschutes National Forest, and not nearly enough money or people to maintain them all.
The Deschutes Trails Coalition formed in 2017 to help the Forest Service address a growing backlog of trail maintenance and repairs.
We caught up with the Deschutes Trail Coalition’s professional trail maintenance crew on a section of the Pacific Crest Trail near Charlton Lake. This area was burned over by the Cedar Creek Fire in 2022. The scorched soils don’t absorb water as easily, which accelerates erosion problems.
The crew is working to reestablish the tread of the trail.
“In some cases, the tread was going in slope which would leave the water on the trail. In some cases, it was too far out sloped which would make people feel like they were falling off the trail. They are trying to reestablish a nice tread width again with a little bit of out slope to ensure water doesn’t stay on the trail,” said Jason Whittaker, DTC trails coordinator.
This is a pilot project by the Deschutes Trails Coalition to pay a trail maintenance crew to chip away all summer long on the growing backlog of trail maintenance issues.
“The intent and need behind all this is we are seeing growing impacts on our trails. We don’t have the resources currently. There’s relatively few resources to maintain that over the long haul,” said Jana Johnson, Deschutes Trails Coalition executive director.
“In our community, we all benefit from them because we love using them. Or we have businesses that benefit from the trail users that come here to live or work or play. This is an opportunity for us to come together to support those resources that we all love. Through this coalition, we can share strength, resources and envisioning and networking to more efficiently and effectively take care of our trails,” Johnson said.
The Deschutes Trail Coalition crew of five people worked all over the Deschutes National Forest in their first year of operations.
They worked with partner agencies to harden river access points at the Good Dog off-leash area upstream of Bend. They cut hundreds of trees that fell over and blocked trails in the Green Lakes area. They helped build footbridges over creeks and dug countless drains so hikers don’t have to walk on flooded trails.
“It’s really helpful when it has been raining because you can see where the water is going and then you kind of make a little funnel, make a little wall so the water stops, and it moves off the trail,” said Emily Metthauer, a trail crew member.
Visitors to local resorts such as Tetherow and Sunriver pay $1 extra on their guest bills. The money goes directly to support DTC’s trail work.
“They’ve gotten great feedback from their guests. They’ve stayed here. They’ve enjoyed the trails. They are happy to give that dollar at the end of their stay,” Johnson said.
Thirty-five agencies and organizations partner in the Deschutes Trails Coalition, putting their heads together to identify high-priority, sustainable trail projects that balance the needs of people and nature. The paid, professional, full-time trail crew is one result of that collaboration.
It looks like an outdoor lover’s dream.
“It really is. We have a lot of people who like to get out and who love trail-based recreation. It is a dream job for folks on the trail crew. You get to be out every day. You get to explore new parts of the forest. Maybe learn some new skills and work with great people,” Johnson said.
Visit the Deschutes Trails Coalition website if you are interested in volunteering, applying for a position on the professional trail crew member or a potential sponsor.