By Allen Sykora
Volunteers with the Central Oregon Nordic Club have been quietly providing a “20-year facelift” to the back-country ski/snowshoe trails and shelters in the region.
This year, they replaced many of the existing brown ski and snowshoe trail signs and also added new signs with junction numbers or letters that correspond with maps. This comes on top of the two new shelters that were built over the last decade, as well as the ongoing effort to constantly clear fallen lodgepole pines from the trails, plus stock shelters with firewood.
“The trail system has had what I call a 20-year facelift,” said Gary Kelley, CONC co-president.
Susan Sullivan, Bob Timmer and Kathy Jensen spearheaded a massive effort to post a sign with junction numbers and letters at every trail intersection in the three areas that CONC helps maintain – the Swampy Lakes-Swede Ridge area, Edison and Dutchman Flat.
“Every single junction has a new number [or letter] … on the new maps that are on the club website now,” Gary explained. “People had to go nail all of those new numbers up. So you’ll now – if you’re lost – find No. 72, look on your map and know where you are.”
Susan pointed out that the junctions on ski trails are marked with numbers, while those for snowshoe trails are marked with letters. This is meant avoid any confusion between the two trail systems.
“Between the two systems, we are putting up 73 new junction designations,” Susan said. “All but a handful are now up.”
The Meissner Nordic Club has done the same for trails that organization maintains and grooms out of Virginia Meissner Sno-Park, Gary and Susan added. The two clubs coordinated their efforts to avoid duplicate numbers or letters.
Since last winter, CONC volunteers also replaced many of the brown trail signs – pointing out the direction of trails and distances — in the forest. Many were losing their lettering, Gary explained. CONC members inventoried and took photos of the signs. The Forest Service had new signs made and CONC members put them up.
“We now have 66 new snowshoe and ski signs — and to date, all of them have been put up except one,” Susan said. “We hope to finish this week….Along the way, we discovered a few more that we missed in our original survey, so there will be a dozen or so more new ones ordered and put up by the winter’s end.”
Additionally, club volunteers put up hundreds of new blue diamonds that mark ski and snowshoe trails, Gary added. These occurred on work trips that began over the summer and continued into autumn. This also involved trimming branches as necessary so the diamonds would be visible.
“Almost all the trails have really good markings now,” Gary reported.
Additionally, Chris Sabo, Gary Evans and Chris and Kathy Jensen put in a different woodstove at the Edison shelter, Gary reported. They took out an old barrel stove.
One more new feature is a kindling splitter mounted on a front post at the Swampy Lakes shelter. Somebody who wants kindling now can put a hunk of wood on a notch and bring down a cutting blade, shaving off kindling. Then visitors can make kindling as they need it, rather than say the club making a huge pile of kindling only to have somebody come out and burn it all at once.
“Meissner has one as well,” Gary said. “If it works well, we’ll put them in other huts as well.”
Not counting the shelters, perhaps more volunteer work was done in 2017 than most years.
“One of the reasons we were able to do a lot this year is, frankly, we have six or seven more regular volunteers,” Gary said. “Also, people who worked in the summer took pressure off the people who normally just work in the fall.”
Meanwhile, Gary continued, workhorses Al Matson and Doug Williams “continually roam the woods” clearing fallen trees and branches that otherwise would block ski and hiking trails. Additionally, Gary added, the mountain biking group COTA has volunteers doing the same, sometimes covering routes that are ski trails in winter.
“That is a huge amount of work,” Gary commented. “Every time it’s windy, another couple hundred trees fall.
“Cross-country skiing doesn’t require the trees to be gone, because snow covers most of them. But when we don’t have much snow, it’s nice that the Swampy trails — that everyone likes to use the most — are cleared pretty well right down to the ground. Then you can ski nicely on six inches to a foot of snow.”
Gary emphasized that considerable work has been done on the trails for snowshoers as well. Otherwise, many of these routes would be blocked by pines that have died and fallen during the beetle infestation.
“Bob [Timmer and his group of volunteers] spiffed it right up,” Gary said. “It’s a really professional job. We’ve done that on the ski trails too.”
Stocking shelters, clearing brush; more help welcome
As always, one of CONC’s tasks again this autumn was stocking firewood in shelters. Gary reports at least three trips occurred this fall, one with some 13 to 14 people helping out. Smaller groups split the wood.
The club stocks firewood in five skit huts, – Swede Ridge, Nordeen, Swampy Lakes, Edison and AC-DC.
There is always more work to be done, so those who want to help out will always have more opportunities and are encouraged to do so.
“Yes, we have more work to do!” Susan said. “We seemed like we were constantly on the verge of running out of diamonds all summer, so — even though nearly all trails are now better marked — there are places that we didn’t mark as clearly as we would have liked. We will be having some work parties to make up new diamonds, and there will be ongoing efforts to keep trails clear of downfall and brush, remove limbs to keep diamonds and signs visible, and put up new diamonds where needed.”
Some of the jobs don’t even require tramping around in the woods.
“We’re buying materials to make new bracketed diamonds, so we’ll have some work parties to assemble those,” Gary said.
These diamonds stick out from tree trunks by a few inches, making them less likely to be remain plastered with snow – and thus stay more visible — after heavy snowstorms. Work parties to assembly these likely will occur in somebody’s garage.
“It’s a little assembly line with five or six steps to create them,” Gary continued. “There are some trails that need more diamonds, especially bracketed diamonds. It’s nice to have a mixture of bracketed and flat diamonds. Some work better or worse in different conditions.”
Once finished, the bracketed diamonds can be hung by club members where needed. Volunteers can carry or toboggan a lightweight ladder early in the season and/or hang diamonds later in the winter when the snow is deeper, in order to get the diamonds at an adequate height.
“There are other work parties that will come up,” Gary said.
Anybody who wants to volunteer can click the volunteer link on the CONC website. Also, this is the time of year for members to renew memberships. The form has a place members can check to volunteer for trail/shelter maintenance. When they do, they will be added to a group e-mail list for volunteers. Then, when opportunities to volunteer come along, members can respond and sign up for the trips they can make.