The Unsung Heroes of the Deschutes National Forest

When you hike or ride in the Deschutes National Forest and come upon a trail maintenance crew hard at work, they’re probably not Forest Service employees. They’re volunteers.

Volunteers? What!?! Doesn’t the Deschutes National Forest have paid trail workers?  Well, yes, they do.  The Deschutes has one crew of five people.  And it has over 2,000 miles of trails to maintain each summer.  That works out to be 400 trail miles per crew member – clearly, an impossible task.

So, volunteers pick up the slack.  Here are a few of the trail organizations whose volunteers handle trail maintenance: 

* Central Oregon Trails Alliance (COTA) (350 miles)

* Oregon Equestrian Trails and Back Country Horsemen (OET) (BCH) (together, 300 miles)

* Sawyers with Attitude to Spare (SWATS) (250 miles)

* Sisters Trails Alliance (STA) (90 miles)

* Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) (60 miles) 

Other trails are “adopted” by individuals who volunteer to handle the maintenance chores for a specific stretch of trail. 

The volunteers survey each trail at the beginning of the season to determine what work is needed and then get to work clearing the downed logs, repairing the tread, opening clogged drainage features, and clearing encroaching brush.  Before they even start work, they become trained in tool use, first aid/CPR, and safety procedures.  The individuals who handle chainsaws and crosscut saws must also obtain formal certifications that demonstrate they can operate these dangerous tools safely. It’s a big commitment of time and energy, and the public could not enjoy the trails if it weren’t for the Deschutes’ trail volunteers.

So, next time you meet a cadre of people hard at work clearing logs or clearing brush along the trail, please give those dedicated volunteers your heartfelt thanks. They’re the unsung heroes of the Deschutes National Forest.

Contributed by Kit Dickey and Sawyers With Attitude to Spare (SWATS)