The smell of fresh-cut wood permeated the air, and chips flew all about as two men wearing blue hard hats sawed through a tree blocking a trail in the Umatilla National Forest on Saturday.
With a snap of breaking wood, the tree’s last sinews gave way causing it to crash to the ground.
The weekend sawyers were two members of the Blues Crew, a newly formed team of volunteers helping U.S. Forest Service employees clear trails in the Walla Walla Ranger District. The crew was established in April by members of the Blue Mountain Land Trust.
“Walla Walla’s trail systems are integral to the local economy,” said Blues Crew Leader Greg Brown. “If the Blue Mountain Land Trust can improve the quality of the local trails, people may come from other regions to enjoy hiking, ATV riding, motorcycling, hunting and fishing.”
With the trail maintenance volunteer crew, Brown said the Land Trust hopes to keep trails open to prevent the community from losing them.
“The Forest Service has been chronically underfunded for many, many years,” Brown said. “They do not have the resources to maintain trails, and more and more trails are disappearing and becoming impassable.”
The Walla Walla Ranger District contains close to 200 miles of trails. The ranger district employs a trail-crew supervisor and two seasonal workers, and while the team tries to remove all the downed trees from trails, repairing the erosion damage and cutting back the brush doesn’t always get completed due to time and resource constraints.
“These volunteer groups are turning out to be crucial just to get all this work done,” said trail-crew supervisor Kyoshi Fujishin.
The Blue Mountain Land Trust is also partnered with a host of other local and regional organizations, governments and agencies working to create a larger, regional, nonmotorized trail system that will increase hiking opportunities in the area. Learn more about the Blue Mountain Region Trails project.