Hikers owe gratitude to Washington Trails Association

  • Fri Oct 19th, 2012 10:35pm
  • Life

By Sharon Wootton

Climbers have created a list of the top 100 of this state’s highest peaks. Karen Daubert has climbed 60 of them. She’s also climbed from a member and supporter to the board of the Washington Trails Association to its executive director.

And she maintains the same enthusiasm for the organization as she does for the outdoors.

“I’m nuts about hiking,” Daubert said a year into her leadership role. “I spent a lot of time hiking in the Mountain Loop Highway area, Monte Cristo, all the classic hikes off Mountain Loop.”

Eventually, hiking led to scrambling, and that led to climbing as well as the WTA, currently the top-rated state trail organization in the country.

WTA’s success is all about the volunteers donating thousands of hours of trail building and maintenance in parks, national forests and other public lands.

It’s hard to overpraise WTA because the state of trails would be in an appalling status if not for their volunteers.

“It would be very different, and any land manager will tell you that,” Daubert said. “There would be trails that would be closed.”

The Forest Service prefers the words “not maintained” rather than “closed,” but “abandoned” would be a more accurate take on agencies’ (not just the Forest Service) decisions, usually dictated by budgets that have been decimated in the past decade.

The 6.7-mile Duckabush Trail is one example. Blowdowns and budget led to the decision not to maintain the trail. Volunteers got in and cleared out the blowdowns, keeping the trail open.

The 6.8-mile Chelan Lakeshore Trail along Lake Chelan is another example of an abandoned Forest Service trail saved by WTA.

“Our volunteers said no, it’s a wonderful trail, one of the few great early season trails,” Daubert said. “We work on the trail every year for two full weeks. We do all the maintenance.”

Maintenance can include cutting and removing blowdown across the trails or unsafe trees near the trails.

“We’ve also built very sophisticated bridges across streams. We’ve literally built the supports on either side.”

Another example is Lake Serene.

“We didn’t build the steep stairs all the way up, but we did all the approach work, including a new little bridge.”

WTA also creates trails, such as the 10-mile multiuse Grand Ridge Trail outside Issaquah.

“The trail is constructed so well it’s the superhighway of trails,” she said. The 10-year project was done mostly in winter and dedicated last spring, the director said.

WTA’s work has become a four-season operation. Through the end of the year, most of the work will be done in King County as the higher backcountry receives more snowfall.

“The frontcountry is at lower elevations and easier to drive to,” Daubert said.

She added that volunteer hours are 24 percent above this time last year, much of the increase involving volunteer vacations, backcountry trips and youth day trips. More companies are using WTA’s work trips as a bonding experience for employees.

“We have a secret recipe,” Daubert said: Always be safe. Have fun. Get the work done.

Getting it done includes choosing which trails to focus on in 2013, a task that’s under way. Land managers are interviewed, needs are assessed and decisions made. Various partners, including the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington, are included in the process.

WTA’s strength is not only in its volunteers but in its website, www.wta.org.

It includes an extensive hiking guide, hike finder map, trip reports, seasonal hikes, resources, ranger station information, ways to take action on issues, work parties and other volunteer opportunities, and membership information.

So climb aboard.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-93964 or www.songandword.com.