Volunteers and partners clear Rhoda Creek Trail in Central Idaho priority area

Four trail crew members pose around the cut end of a large log they sawed out of a trail.

Idaho Conservation Corps crew members pose next to a large fallen tree they cleared during work re-establishing access on the Rhoda Creek Trail system in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness this summer. Courtesy photo by Bruce Morton.

KAMIAH, Idaho (September 13, 2019) – A partnership between the USDA Forest Service, Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, Idaho Conservation Corps, and local Backcountry Horsemen has re–established access on the Rhoda Creek trail system, located in the Selway–Bitterroot Wilderness on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests.

The Rhoda Creek trail system had long been used by horseback riders and hikers when traveling between the Lochsa and Selway River drainages. Unfortunately, lack of consistent trail maintenance and many fires in the area had made the route nearly impossible to find, and this mainline route was no longer accessible. The Forest Service did not have the capacity in 2019 to support the extensive effort to re–open the trail, as the year’s work had already been planned for the forest’s limited trail crews.

Fortunately, hard–working volunteers and partners stepped up to make this project a reality this summer. Individuals from the North Central Idaho Backcountry Horsemen offered to help search for and re–open the trail, but needed support from land managers and trail crews. Using an innovative partnership strategy, the Backcountry Horsemen took the lead for organizing the project, while the Forest Service provided oversight. The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation used trail grant funds to hire an Idaho Conservation Corps crew to do the trail work and to support the Backcountry Horsemen volunteers, who would pack in the crew’s camp and supplies.

The Idaho Conservation Corps crew worked for eight weeks in the wilderness without leaving the remote work location, relying on the Backcountry Horsemen to use pack animals to bring them food and supplies. Together, the groups located, cleared, and repaired lost sections of trail in the Upper Rhoda Creek drainage, successfully opening the route from Rhoda Creek into the Two Lakes area and reconnecting the Lochsa to the Selway trail system. There is still some work remaining for next year’s crews, but the area can now be accessed once again.

The Idaho Conservation Corps crew and Backcountry Horsemen developed such a close comradery this summer that they have committed to return together to support each other in finishing the project. “This project is bringing together funding partners and work crews to create a new way of opening trails long–closed in the Selway–Bitterroot Wilderness to provide access to those who want to go deep into the wild,” said Cary Foster, North Central Idaho Backcountry Horsemen, who helped locate the overgrown Rhoda Creek Trail.

The Idaho Conservation Corps crew was supported by federal grant funding administered by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. This funding was designated specifically to support projects in the recently recognized Central Idaho Complex Priority Area, which was identified by the 2016 Trails Stewardship Act as one of 15 priority areas for trail maintenance and other wilderness work across the country. The Central Idaho Complex Priority Area encompasses trails on five National Forests and includes three large designated wilderness areas.

“This partnership truly embodies what I believe is the vision of the Trails Stewardship Act,” said Carol Hennessey, who oversees the Recreation, Wilderness, Trails, Rivers, and Outfitter and Guide programs on the forest. “Having a Backcountry Horsemen chapter take the lead on a project of this scale, and working with a state agency to utilize grant funding to put a Conservation Corps crew on the ground, relieved the Forest Service of the administrative burden of such a project so our trail managers could concentrate their efforts ‘on the ground’ to produce results for the public who cherishes these trails.”

“This project is a great example of how partnerships and shared responsibility between agencies can complete high–priority backlogged projects that provide public access to hunters, hikers, and equestrians in Idaho,” said Tom Helmer, Non–Motorized Trail Manager for the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. “The Rhoda Creek Trail is just one of many places we are trying to keep open for users throughout the state and specifically within the Central Idaho trails complex.”

The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests is grateful for the opportunity to work with all of these partners and volunteers to clear this important route. Remember, trail conditions can change rapidly; always contact your local ranger station for the latest information before planning a trip into the wilderness. Trail condition reports are updated bi–monthly during the summer months and are available online at bit.ly/NPClwNF-Trails.

Learn more about the 2016 Trails Stewardship Act at bit.ly/USFS_TrailsStewAct.



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Two trail workers hike down into a trail with an expansive mountain view in the background.

The Idaho Conservation Corps hikes into the Upper Rhoda Creek drainage during work re-establishing access on the Rhoda Creek Trail system in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness this summer. Courtesy photo by Bruce Morton.