Hood River Area Trail Stewards, also known as HRATS, held an impromptu work party last weekend at the Family Man area on Riordan Hill Road, and if numbers are any indication, people are earnestly concerned about the condition of the popular network of forest recreational trails after severe winter weather.
"It's pretty shocking, the amount of downed trees and limbs and damage," said Matt Klee, HRATS president. "The worst of it seems to be concentrated to a certain elevation band, which just happens to be where many of the popular trails are."
Sunday's work party brought out 56 people for several hours of hard labor in foul weather. The high turnout surprised organizers because the work party was organized at the last minute, and because Sunday morning followed Saturday night, which happened to be both St. Patrick's Day and Double Mountain Brewery's five-year anniversary hullabaloo.
"We were expecting about 15 people to show up," Klee said. "But to get 60 people on a Sunday morning was great. We were able to divide people into groups and have them work with trail stewards on clearing sections of trails around Family Man."
For now, what and where work can be done remains very limited. Damage from a week-long series of snow and ice storms in January was extensive, and many trails and roads in the popular Northwest Trails Area (Post Canyon, Riordan Hill, Binns Hill) are criss-crossed with literally hundreds of downed and broken trees and branches. Hood River County Forestry has been working on salvage operations in the area, but uncooperative weather -- including this week's snowstorm -- has limited progress. Volunteers eager to help clear trails and get them reopen for spring are on hold until the large, salvageable timber can be pulled out of the forest and trucked away.
"Spring is not the greatest time to be doing a lot of logging," said Doug Thiesies, HRCF manager. "There's a huge amount of work to be done out there, but until the weather improves things are basically on hold."
Salvage operations were started in the Family Man area basically as soon as roads were clear enough to get equipment into them. Large trees have been pulled out of the forest and stacked in decks for log trucks to pick up once roads dry out enough. The work party focused on clearing trails in those areas. Most other trails are either blocked or so choked with large timber and debris that clearing cannot be done without significant chainsaw work, which the county is strictly prohibiting to the public.
"We're doing the best we can to facilitate the trail folks; but at the same time, we have a huge forestry job ahead of us," Thiesies said. "It's what we've been dealt this year. There is an incredible amount of timber down out there and it's going to take a while to deal with it."
One of the areas hardest-hit by the ice storm is unfortunately also one of the most popular trails in the county.
Lower Seven Streams trail weaves its way into and out of the forest off of Post Canyon Road, just a few miles outside downtown Hood River. The trail follows along Post Canyon Creek and is widely popular for hiking, jogging, dog walking and mountain biking. It was also a popular outlet to and from the extensive network of trails farther up the hills.
A large section of forest surrounding the trail, just uphill from the official trailhead, was decimated by the storm and will likely be clear-cut this year.
Thiesies said HRCF will put the stand up for sale and hopes to have a buyer that will harvest it this year. He said the reasons for a clear-cut are to recover the large volume of trees that are down, to mitigate problems with future bug and beetle infestations and to create a "fresh canvas" to replant and start over.
"The reality is, we are a tree farm," Thiesies said. "The money that comes from the forest goes directly into the County's general fund. We need to keep the ground productive, and to remove the risk to other residual stands. If that means we have to harvest those areas and start over, that's what we will do."
Hood River Area Trail Stewards is a newly formed nonprofit with a mission statement to, "unite the local cycling community by providing a single source of contact for trail advocacy in order to create, enhance and preserve great trail experiences for mountain bikers in the Hood River area."
Check out www.hrats.org to learn more and to join the group's contact list for future events and cleanup activities.