Trail work volunteers needed
Want to volunteer for trail work on Saddle Rock?
Call the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust at 667-9708 or send e-mail to email@example.com
WENATCHEE — “Loved to death,” is a phrase that comes up often when talking about the Wenatchee Valley’s most iconic geographical feature, Saddle Rock.
Thousands of people each year make the steep 1.4 mile trek up to the top of the twin-horned peak for postcard views of the Columbia River snaking through the picturesque valley.
But the heavy foot traffic has taken a toll on the mountain. Dozens of twisting trails cut their way through the sagebrush leaving the parched sandstone and clay soils riddled with scars. The Wenatchee Valley only gets about 10 inches of annual rainfall, but when it rains and when the winter snows melt, water run down each new crease in the hill with a vengeance, eroding plants and soil and turning paths into deep ruts.
“There’s never been an official trail. It always been a free-for-all,” said Hanne Beener, trail stewardship assistant for the Chelan Douglas Land Trust.
The Land Trust would like to do something about that. The non-proft nature preservation group helped the City of Wenatchee raise $500,000 to purchase the 325-acre area in 2011. While the city owns the rock, the Land Trust is in charge of maintaining and improving it for public use. The group has since continued to raise funds for ongoing rehabilitation work. The sum was boosted recently by a $60,000 grant from the Alcoa Foundation.
Beener said the money will be used for some heavy machine work next year, replanting native grass seeds and shrubs, installing trail barriers and producing educational materials. But most the work of decommissioning errant trails will be done by volunteers. A small group of about seven were on the hill Saturday, using picks, shovels, rakes and pulaskis to break up the hardened sod of numerous shortcuts and block them off with barriers and piles of dead sage and rabbit brush.
“It’s a smaller group than I had hoped for, but they’re giving it their all,” Beener said. Beener led a group of 15 WestSide High School students in a WSU Cooperative Extension class up to work on the trails Thursday. Friday, a group of eight volunteers from Alcoa-Wenatchee Works arrived to help.
Still, the need for volunteers is great.
“This trail gets used by 300 people a day during the fall and spring busy times,” Beener said. “That’s a lot of people who could help us out, even if helping out is just staying on the main trails.”
“It’s disheartening to see the erosion,” said Jean Speidel of Wenatchee, a longtime Land Trust member. “I’m excited to help decommission some of these trails. That steep cut over there has been there for years,” she said pointing to a wide cut on the hill that looked as slick as a slide.
Jane and John Zanol of Wenatchee said they were urged to come help through a naturalist class they’ve taken and they’re glad they did.
“I’m enjoying it. It’s like working in my garden. That’s what we’re doing, turning what’s here into a garden,” Jane Zanol said.
John Zanol said he hikes Saddle Rock every day of the year with a group of friends, using headlamps when it’s dark in the morning and snowshoes or ice spikes in the winter.
“I’m probably one of the trail’s heavy users,” he said.
At 17, Eric Torres was the youngest volunteer Saturday, but he hopes to change that. The Cashmere High School senior is a Land Trust intern this year.
“I’m really into volunteer work and want to get other high school clubs up here to help,” he said.
Beener said it will take five or six years to develop a full trail system, complete erosion work and educate users why it’s important to stay on one trail rather than blaze their own shortcuts. Plans are to decommission many of the side trails near the bottom of the area and plant native grass seeds this fall before snow sets in.
“It doesn’t take long at all if you prepare the seed bed right and keep people off it,” she said.