The Fremont-Winema National Forest renews commitment to partnership

Volunteers work on trail accessing PCT

We all know the amazing human phenomenon of fellowship kindled from a group of strangers sweating for a common goal. Coming together for hard outdoor work inspires the best from us in a way that sitting around a conference table does not. This is why volunteerism and the USDA Forest Service can work so well together. Breathing crisp air, surrounded by beauty, sharing the work as a team, Forest Service employees and people who join outdoor nonprofit groups do so for the same reason, to serve ideals with a value beyond the paycheck. This is the spirit leading the Fremont-Winema National Forest out of an epic pandemic and into a renewed commitment to partnership.

Moving out of COVID, the Recreation, Partnership and Volunteer Program is focused on improving ability to maintain recreation sites and trails, cultivating our existing partnerships, and increasing access to the resources that we manage. To support this commitment, the Forest hired a new program coordinator, Paul Hauser in December 2021 and celebrated National Volunteer Month with a series of social media posts acknowledging our excellent partners and their invaluable work. Filling recreation position vacancies will further improve our ability to employ available resources and improve access to the unique opportunities our Forest offers. The partnership and volunteer program will begin by building on the successes of the past.

Recreation Program Manager, Scott Stoffel explains, “Our forest has strong relationships that we want to cultivate and utilize fully to improve recreation sites and trails for a diversity of user groups.”

The Oregon Timber Trail Alliance has devoted its resources to the Fremont National Recreation Trail and the rural communities it connects since 2015. The 98-mile section of the Oregon Timber Trail travels across the Lakeview, Paisley and Silver Lake Ranger Districts. They began by cutting out hundreds of trees from a 2005 beetle-kill, and since have tirelessly picked away at impacts from wildfire. Upon award of a $150,000 Recreational Trails Program grant, their focus has been a 16-mile stretch of trail burned by the Watson Fire of 2018.                             

Volunteers repair trail in burned area“OTTA has the ability to connect people across the state. Some folks have never spent time here, but because they know OTTA, they come and help and then come back,” explains Nathan Crabtree, Recreation Specialist, Fremont-Winema National Forest.

The Fremont-Winema National Forest’s partnership with OTTA enables connections beyond the Forest’s geographic area and introduces people to the community of volunteer work and to the sweeping beauty of these remote and rugged wildlands. Last year the Cougar Peak Fire took out a huge section of trail once again. With OTTA’s successful model combining professional training for volunteers, commitment to struggling rural economies, and stewardship education, the Forest is looking forward to another year of building new trail and new relationships. 

“I appreciate the decades of dedication from our volunteers, they show up every time and want to be there. It is a community effort to keep trails maintained as mother nature continues to reset our workload every winter from windfall to brush work,” reports Anthony Benedetti, Recreation Operations Specialist, Fremont-Winema National Forest.

With the fame and fortune of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) has the experience and outreach to engage whatever hits the trail, from timber to post-fire recovery to private lands and public lands. They have a regional agreement to perform maintenance on the trail which runs the length of the west edge of the forest through the Sky Lakes and Mt. Thielsen Wildernesses. With 700-800 people hiking the congressionally designated trail and just as many volunteering annually, the PCTA is a partner the forest relies heavily on. For the past 7 years work has focused on a blowdown event, erosion issues and wildfire impacts. The PCTA coordinates Student Conservation Association (SCA), American Conservation Experience (ACE) crews and independent volunteers with the Back Country Horsemen of Oregon packing in supplies and equipment.

“None of this work would have happened without backcountry horsemen! We have had a lot of volunteer pack support champions for many years, “said Ian Nelson, Big Bend Regional Representative, PCTA

Horseback Riders pack in trail building equipment

For this August and September, the PCTA plans to tackle tread and drainage work from Devils Peak to Ranger Springs in the Sky Lakes Wilderness. The important work of building check steps, backfilling eroded segments, and rebuilding or installing drains all depends on air quality once wildfire season begins. Last season only one planned hitch was carried out before crews were smoked out. Fortunately, with our amazing partners, dedicated staff and the commitment of hundreds of individuals who come out year after year, everyone can count on the work getting done as it is possible.

“All of our partners pitch in when it comes to the PCT and our trail systems. Klamath Trails Alliance (KTA) and the High Desert Trail Riders (HDTR) Chapter of the Backcountry Horsemen of Oregon provide support to the PCTA. HDTR provides pack support and clearing the PCT, with KTA and Klamath Basin Outdoor Group clearing feeder trails,” offers Anthony Benedetti, Wilderness Technician, Fremont-Winema National Forest.

Volunteers saw huge trees off of Oregon Timber Trail

Without our excellent partnerships, in this isolated landscape, the tasks of trail maintenance in the face of devastating wildfire and beetle-kill, would be overwhelming. With them we build a foundation of collaboration into the future. By connecting hearts and minds to the national forest lands we rely on for work, resources and respite, we improve the strength and resiliency of our communities and our forest lands while cultivating a new generation of public lands stewards. In partnership we build the strong relationships we need to create the solutions of tomorrow.

“It is almost like a fractal where a little bit of good shows up and explodes into tiers of benefits,” suggests, Nathan Crabtree.