Cathy Corlett, American Trails Director of Strategic Communications, joined Trailkeepers of Oregon's women-only trail work party to find out more about the work being done and the women who opt to spend their Sunday working on the trail, even when the weather conditions are less than ideal.
When I arrived at Silver Falls State Park this past Sunday (March 12) it was a raw, overcast rainy 34 degrees with six inches of mushy snow still on the ground. I had left my house at what felt like 6:30 AM (suddenly 7:30 due to daylight savings time) to join this women-only trail work party set up by Trailkeepers of Oregon (TKO) for Women Who Explore (WWE). I was met at the parking lot by trail party leaders Alison Nichols and Daron Webb, who introduced me to park ranger John Hilbert and Beth Lord, Alyssa Heuberger, and Ellen Drury, outing ambassadors from WWE. My goal was to find out more about the work being done today, and the women who opt to spend their Sunday working on the trail, even when the conditions are less than ideal.
I spent the next five hours talking with these five amazing women, with John's informative guidance. Together we worked on a new trail segment called the North Rim Trail, which will connect to the new North Gateway Visitor Center with its larger parking lot. It includes two fiberglass bridges, which were installed by park staff and volunteers including TKO and WWE, a viewpoint of the north falls, and a boardwalk supported by rock gabions. Construction has been delayed by snow, but these features are scheduled to open to the public sometime this spring.
From the lower trailhead, we crossed a new boardwalk over a trickling stream flowing down a gentle slope toward a larger creek. Snowmelt mingled with the emerging yellow flowers of skunk cabbage. The rippling flow of water and quick chirps of birds fluttering through added to the sense of tranquility and natural beauty.
The day's work consisted of first removing snow from the trail using a trail-grubbing tool called a Reinhart hoe that looks like a folded shovel. As John started moving some gravel into position for us to spread out, we took a field trip to visit the new North Falls Viewpoint under construction. Winter is slow in departing this year. We hiked along under the arching branches of vine maple, laden with rich green moss. The weight of this moss has brought down numerous branches which we paused frequently to marvel at and remove from the trail. There was less snow and finally none on the ground as we entered the densely canopied shade of the 80-year-old fir forest. Profuse airborne mist sweeping uphill toward us from the nearby waterfall added to the chill. We were rewarded by a dramatic view of the falls, heightened by the scale of seemingly tiny visitors on the trail behind it.
Returning to the boardwalk, we spread gravel on the far side of it and took turns learning how to operate a small excavator to load gravel, which I found very empowering and fun. During lunch, we shared stories of adventures on the trail. Beth, Alyssa, and Ellen talked about the good friends and sense of community that they have found through WWE.
After lunch, we removed a sizeable fallen tree from a point higher up on the trail and prepared another section of the trail for more improvement. We learned from John that laminar root rot has afflicted patches of Douglas-fir in this part of the park. The fungus grows between a tree's annual growth layers and weakens it, the result being "self-thinning". This even-aged stand of trees is getting less dense as some of the trees fall prey to the fungus. The ones that live on may become part of a more mature old-growth forest type.
All in all, it was an interesting and productive day. I have a greater appreciation for the many women who are helping keep trails accessible for everyone, no matter the weather.
For more information:
The North Gateway Visitor Center and North Falls viewpoint is the first construction to happen in Silver Falls State Park in approximately 100 years. The new visitor center is designed to evoke the architectural style of the historic South Falls Lodge in the center of the park constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
Click on these live weblinks to find out more:
Published March 2023
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