volunteers reshaped the PNT

Six Ways Volunteers Reshaped the PNT in 2021

Shared stewardship of the PNT is a partner and community-driven process. It involves coordinating a large and diverse community of professional and volunteer trail stewards, trail users, and many local stakeholders. With their help, the PNTA is working to maintain and enhance the Pacific Northwest Trail for generations to come.


 

It’s no secret that the Pacific Northwest Trail is known for being “a little rough around the edges.”  In years past, climate impacts and resulting deferred maintenance in places like the Pasayten Wilderness and Bogachiel River Valley even helped the PNT earn a reputation as “America’s gnarliest thru-hike.” 

Deserved or not, it probably won’t be long before that title is passed on to a new long-distance trek. As a “young” National Scenic Trail, the PNT is fated to change, and its evolution is already being felt by visitors.

Thru-hikers in the Class of 2021 didn’t expect to find some of the most notorious trail segments so greatly improved this year. Where guidebook descriptions had steeled them to battle with blowdowns, tangles of brush, and ambiguous routes, they found freshly cut logs, trail crews at work, and a much easier go. 

For many, it may have seemed a little like the trail’s sharpest edges had been sanded down to reveal a more polished trail experience. These changes didn’t take place in a single year, of course, but the 2021 season was transformative in many ways. 

An enormous amount of credit for that should go to the owners of the boots that hit the duff this year and an outstanding trail community that has lent their support to the effort year after year. 

Here are just a few ways that those dedicated trail stewards and volunteers with the PNTA helped reshape the Pacific Northwest Trail experience during our 2021 season.


Trail Triage at Baker Lake
217 Volunteer Hours/ 18 Staff Hours

PNTA would like to thank the following volunteers for their outstanding service to the project: Andrew Ashmore, Ashley Vormund, Ben Semer, Bonnie Smerdon, Christian Frey, Dave Johnshoy, Dianne Hofbeck, Emily Snyder, Eric Stark, Jason Temple, Joe Hofbeck, Jon Booth, Justin Temple, Liz Ulloa, Marissa Leal, Maryanne Wood, Pam Johnshoy, Robert Cavness, Samantha Young, Scott Inloes, Sean Miller, Susan Shaw, Taylor Ross, Tom Kallman, and Yoshiko Chomon.

Unlike many places on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, the Baker Lake area remains below  snowline for most of the year, which is just one reason why it’s such a popular destination for hikers and riders year-round. 

When severe winter storms downed enough trees to leave the Baker Lake Trail virtually impassable last January, the PNTA asked our trail community for help. There was such extensive damage to the trees and tread that one MBS USFS employee went so far as to describe the situation as looking “like a bomb went off.” With most professional trail workers furloughed for the season we knew that it wouldn’t be possible to restore access to the trail in the off-season without volunteers’ help.

Clearing dozens of tangled trees from the trail would take a lot of labor and expertise — and both were in short supply at the time the damage occurred, as the Association’s Performance Trail Crews generally work from May through September. After the trail begins to melt out in more mountainous areas and students go on summer break, PNTA’s youth crews get to work servicing all of the hard to reach parts of the trail system.

Outside of that timeframe, one of the biggest ways that volunteers can contribute to the PNT is by working on local volunteer projects designed to maintain year-round access to low elevation areas in the trail system, like the Baker Lake Trail.

Starting in January, a rotating cast of 25 volunteer sawyers joined PNTA crew leaders at seven volunteer work parties. The dedicated crew worked through some punishing PNW weather to get the job done. By the end of May they logged over 217 hours while helping to clear 84 trees that had fallen along the Baker Lake Trail. 

Without the help of Sean Miller, Eric Stark, Joe Hoffbeck, and two dozen other dedicated volunteers, it simply would not have been possible for PNTA to restore this special part of the PNT before the bulk of backpackers and equestrians began to arrive in spring.

Fun fact: In a surprising twist of fate, shortly after the trail was cleared, officials with the US Forest Service were forced to temporarily close the trail for several weeks due to “aggressive mountain lion activity.” Fortunately, the trail reopened before long.


Breaking Trail at Swan Lake, Corner Butte and Cougar Creek
192 Volunteer Hours/ 1,802 Staff Hours

Special thanks to volunteer Paul Gelineau who made the new placards posted at each end of the new Corner Butte Trail. PNTA would also like to thank the following volunteers for their outstanding service to the new Corner Butte Trail: work-based learning students, Franklyn, Martha, Tiffany and Roby as well as the following PNTA volunteers, Susan Ferguson, and Tim Youngbluth. We also would like to thank volunteers Bodhi Ackerman, Dale Menchhofer, Ed Lemmer, Gorham Bowler, Jerome Bowler, Ken Mapp, and Kim Kremer for helping build new tread at Cougar Creek.

Near Republic, Washington, the PNT wends its way across the Okanogan Highlands, between the scenic Kettle River Range and the high country in the Pasayten Wilderness. Until recently, the route of the PNT in this area was marred by a confounding combination of single track trails, dusty forest roads and cowpaths.

Westbound from Swan Lake, a long-overlooked stretch of the PNT—recovering from a 2015 fire— was finally opened for use as a trail when PNTA crews and volunteers cleared 290 logs and thick stands of brush from this former 1.7-mile bushwhack. The PNTA is also working with the Colville National Forest to improve access to the PNT out of Swan Lake in the near future.

To improve the route further east near Corner Butte, the PNTA and Tonasket Ranger District have developed a new trail that eliminates a hot dusty five mile road-walk from the Pacific Northwest Trail — forever! Because of its historic significance, we invited volunteers to join us on National Trails Day to help us break ground along the route during a series of drop-in trail work parties.

This year it took more than 180 hours of volunteer labor (and 735 hours of trail crew labor) to complete the new Corner Butte Trail. Volunteers can take pride in knowing that future visitors will enjoy a family-friendly stroll through a shady Ponderosa forest interspersed with cool meadows and peek-a-views of Clackamas Mountain and the Kettle Range thanks to their efforts. 

To create the new trail, PNTA crews and seven dedicated volunteers worked through some intense summer heat to dig new tread and define the trail’s walking surface. Volunteers also helped clear brush and several logs from the route, construct a puncheon bridge, and install signage along the route. 

A little further north, a nine mile stretch of the PNT between the Sweat Creek Trailhead and Cougar Creek was also long overdue for a course correction. Long-distance hikers on the PNT may recall the confusing network of pathways and property lines, marked by aggressive “no trespassing” signs in the area. 

Thanks to the service of PNTA and US Forest Service trail crews and seven PNTA volunteers, an important new trail segment was finished in 2021 that will bring a permanent fix to the problem. A new footbridge over Cougar Creek, a puncheon bridge over a stream, and a half-mile long trail segment will place the PNT more squarely on the national forest and at a more comfortable distance from parcels of private property straddling Cougar Creek Road.

 Now thru-hikers can connect their steps between Republic and Oroville with greater confidence, and hikers and equestrians alike can plan loop and lollipop trips from the Sweat Creek Trailhead with more peace of mind.


Eastern Pasayten Backcountry Trip
166 Volunteer Hours / 509 Staff Hours

PNTA would like to thank the following volunteers for helping to improve the route of the PNT in the Eastern Pasayten: Aaron, Dayla and Jon Culp, Mary and Teresa Naylor, Erin Good, Bodhi Ackerman, Rachel Spotts, Jonah Christian and Susan Ferguson.

Every trip to the remote Pasayten Wilderness is an adventure unto itself. Trails in designated Wilderness areas may offer a more rugged experience by design, but in recent years, too many trails in the Pasayten have suffered from wildfire damage and deferred maintenance. Just two years ago, visitors attempting to hike across the Wilderness faced over a thousand fire-blackened snags brought down by the Diamond Creek Fire. 

Over the last four seasons, PNTA has spent more time working in this 114-mile section than any other part of the trail system. And volunteers have played a critical role in that work. Some have helped to resupply our crews by making the long journey to spike camps along the Boundary Trail, while others have helped us log-out the PNT by running 6-foot long crosscut saws. With hundreds of new logs falling in the “ghost forests” along the PNT every winter, we welcome volunteers’ help with our annual log-out effort every summer. 

Trail restoration has been a big part of work there too. This July, that work continued near Horseshoe Basin in an area where the PNT had been nearly reclaimed by Nature. 

“I loved camping in the backcountry with PNTA. They carried all the food AND they cooked fancy meals every night with plenty extra to stuff me to the racks. I had extra energy to burn hacking out deep sod meadows to restore PNT tread… I loved working hard outdoors and to make the world a little bit better. The crew and other volunteers were all so friendly, happy and easy to be around.” -PNTA volunteer Jonah Christian

With traditional pack support from equestrians unavailable, a team of six volunteers joined us to help lighten the trail crew’s load by making a resupply run. They loaded their backpacks with the crew’s provisions and helped deliver them to a “spike camp” near Goodenough Peak

Two more volunteers, Susan Ferguson and Jonah Christian, stayed on to enjoy a true backcountry experience while working shoulder to shoulder with our Performance Trail Crew. 

For six long days they worked out in the backcountry together. Supercharged by the two hard working volunteers’ help, the crew was able to get even more work done! After cutting 500 feet of new tread to reestablish the PNT between Goodenough Park and Horseshoe Basin, they marked the new route so it will be easier to follow next season. They also cleared 77 downed trees from the trail and repaired another mile and a half of the PNT to boot. 

Later in the season, after wildfire activity in the Wilderness lessened, other PNTA crews spent five more hitches working on the western end of the PNT in the Wilderness.


Swift Creek Trail Rehabilitation
60 Vol Hours / 882 Crew hours

PNTA would like to thank the following volunteers for joining us on National Trails Day: Christian Frey, Chuck Eaton, Dave Johnshoy, Eric Stark, Jerry Granahan, Joe Hofbeck, Kip Jacob, Pam Johnshoy, and Tom Kallman

While the Pacific Northwest Trail is widely known for a bevvy of alternate routes that allow folks to “choose their own adventure,” there is no reasonable substitute for the Swift Creek Trail.

Local volunteers have long known that it is the only viable footpath connecting the hiking trails along the Mount Baker Scenic Byway to those around Baker Lake to the south. Its importance to the PNT is just one reason why volunteers have devoted decades of service to its upkeep. 

Like many trails in designated Wilderness areas, the Swift Creek Trail is rugged by design. And at this point in its history, it has no bridges or crossing structures along the glacially fed streams along its route, lending to a true wilderness experience.

Most of the year, Swift and Rainbow Creek run so high and fast that they leave the route dangerous and even impassable. Only for a brief period in late summer — coincidentally, when most thru-hikers arrive — are the crossings more manageable. 

The effort required to keep this critical bottleneck along the PNT open might not be possible if not for the passion of volunteers and the continued support of our trail community.

“The trail gave me so much, and I want to give back. Volunteering with the PNTA brings purpose to my outdoors time — and I get to do a lot of hiking too.” – PNTA volunteer Christian Frey

Lower sections of the trail pass through old growth forests where trees and brush can grow to impressive size and need regular maintenance to prevent nature from reclaiming the trail. 

On our National Trails Day volunteer work party this June, ten volunteers joined PNTA crew leaders to log-out the trail. The crew worked through some soggy conditions to remove 13 large trees from the trail using crosscut saws. 

Later in the season, two Performance Trail Crews spent an additional three full weeks in the Wilderness working to replace three puncheon walkways, build 50 feet of new tread, and to tame the trail corridor all before the majority of summer visitors arrived.


Bogachiel Trail Restoration
381 Vol hours / 2,955 Crew Hours

PNTA would like to thank the following volunteers for helping to make out work on the Bogie possible: Larry and Sherry Baysinger, Harold Weisse, Mark and Noah Arvidson, Miranda Taylor, Mitchell Wolfe, and Ward Ralston.

Keeping Wilderness trails open can be a kind of catch-22. Long roadless stretches are nearly impossible for trail crews to maintain without pack support, and packers can’t ride trails unless they’re in decent condition. 

In Olympic National Park, that was the rub with the Bogachiel Trail after it was hammered by years of washouts and deferred maintenance. For many years, those circumstances left it too brushy and littered with downed trees for packers to ride, and earned it a notorious reputation among hikers

Fortunately, PNTA trail crews and volunteers with the Back Country Horsemen have a long history of close collaboration in tricky situations like these. Thanks to pack support provided by volunteers Larry Baysinger and Harold Weisse, our Olympic Trail Crew was able to meet their goal of restoring over 23 miles of the Bogachiel Trail this season!

Backcountry trail crews use a lot of heavy gear and tools to do trail work. With some backcountry worksites up to 17 miles from the trailhead, using horsepower to carry a week’s worth of food and a trailer-load of tools helped the crew save their time and energy so they could get even more work done on the trail. 

Over the course of five backcountry hitches, the PNTA trail crew worked further east into Olympic National Park. Three volunteers joined them out in the backcountry to help boost the crew’s capacity and morale. Ward Ralson met the crew at Flapjack camp, Miranda Taylor joined the crew for two hitches and Mitchell Wolfe spent a week with the crew in August. 

With their help, they eliminated obstacles along the PNT that both equestrians and hikers had encountered for many years. By fixing tread, horse fords, taming brush — and cutting over 100 big logs from the trail — the pack string was able to travel further into the Wilderness and continue to support the crew. 

Thanks to the combined effort of volunteers and professional trail stewards, the Bogachiel Trail is now more accessible to hikers and equestrians than it has been in nearly a decade!


 

How You Can Help

Get the Dirt on Volunteer Events

Are you thinking about volunteering, but not sure where to begin? Join our email list to learn more about upcoming orientations, training events and volunteer work parties on the PNT. 

Spring through Fall, we host many trail work parties that are open to the public and each event is a little different. Whether you’re new to trail stewardship or an experienced “trail dog,” we have many fun opportunities to get involved! Learn more about our volunteer program here.

Give in Support of These Programs

We know that volunteering isn’t practical for everyone in our trail community. The most common way folks support trail stewardship on the Pacific Northwest Trail is through their generous financial support. From hosting volunteer events, to providing life-changing service learning and recreational opportunities, even a small gift to the PNTA can help make it all possible. Learn more about PNTA membership here.

 

 

 

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Restoring the Bogachiel Trail

 

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