Monday, July 17, 2006

Fun and Mismanagement at 10,358 ft (3,157 m)

This weekend I had the pleasure of reaching the summit of South Sister, one of the highest peaks in Oregon. A fantastic and grueling hike, and highly recommended to anyone spending time in the Cascades. And I hate to dwell on any negatives with what was truly an outstanding day (except obviously, complaining about things is central to the whole blogging philosophy), but the Three Sisters Wilderness area of the Deschutes National Forest could use a bit of recreational management. Now, I’ve always actually had pretty positive experiences with recreation in the National Forests. I like their campgrounds, and I support the “pay-to-play” direction they’ve moved in with regards to maintained failities. But this weekend, the US Forest Service had me on the offensive before I even started hiking, with their lousy info regarding wilderness access permits. While I like the fact that self-service day permits are available at the trailhead, the website should probably not explicitly say “permits are not available at the trailhead”, which may cause law-abiding individuals like myself to drive around Bend for half an hour trying to find a Ranger Station that’s open on a Saturday morning, which is something that just doesn’t exist (not that I mind spending time in Bend, which is one of my favorite towns in the world). And on the trail that crosses a lot of snow even in mid-July, perhaps it would be a good idea to have something indicating to hikers where the trail is through the alpine and subalpine areas. In low-use areas, I’m all for keeping signage to a minimum, but when you’ve got one of the most popular hikes in the state going through the most fragile ecosystem in the world it might be a good idea to put some flagging on some trees to keep people on the trail. It would help with public safety and keep people from wandering across alpine meadows because they’ve lost the trail. (And the signs made out of dead, sun-bleached wood? Very attractive close up, but not so visible with the white rock everwhere and tons of other dead, sun-bleached timber around). What’s frustrating about the poor trail management is that it’s just so easy to make it much better – it would take one ranger one day to put up flagging along the trail that would cut down on 90% of the unintentional wandering people do. I’ll say one thing about the east – they don’t have the vast expanses of wilderness, but the hiking groups (Adirondack Mountain Club, etc) that look after the trails out there do a great job with maintenance and signage. And beautifully, it’s all done voluntarily, because the people looking after it are the same people who use it and care about it.


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