As fall settles in, we get into the time of year known by many locals as hero dirt season. But the real heroes of dirt are the men and women who shape that hero dirt into new trails and maintain the ones we have. Way too many trail users take trails for granted and do not understand that volunteers do the lion share of trail work to keep our trails in usable condition here in Central Oregon. Many users also do not fully understand how much work it really takes to maintain trails: log out, brushing, tread maintenance, water management, user management and more. New trails are also a lot of work, some up front and then implementation: planning, design, approval process, corridor clearing, tread work by hand or with machine, finish work, signage, etc.

This year has been tough with limitations on what trail volunteers could do. COVID-19, fires and smoke all combined to reduce overall trail work performed by volunteers as well as other organizations. The fall rains that usher in the hero dirt also came with fall winds that have brought down many trees. Central Oregon Trail Alliance (COTA) sawyers are working hard to clear out blow downs as fast as we can, but riders should ride with caution as if there may be a tree across the trail around the next corner (because there may be one). Blow down and log out are almost constant challenges for trail maintainers. A lowering of the Industrial Fire Precaution Levels has allowed for chainsaw use again and that certainly helps.

Wilderness trails will be much slower to get cleared, as fewer volunteers and cutting only using crosscut saws reduces productivity.

Winter trails organizations like Meissner Nordic and Central Oregon Nordic Club are cranking up and preparing for winter operations. Those efforts include: corridor work, signage work to make the winter trails easier to navigate, firewood cutting and stacking at the warming huts. The volunteer work by many different organizations to provide positive trail experiences both summer and winter here is huge. Without those great organizations and volunteer efforts our local trails would fall into a state of serious disrepair as the land managing agencies simply do not have the budgets or staff to effectively take care of the many miles of trails.

Here in Bend, most of us use trails in one or more ways — hiking, mountain biking, backpacking, trail running, dog walking, or just using trails to access other outdoor recreational activities like rock climbing, fly fishing and more. We have a fantastic mountain bike trail system right at the city limits, we have wonderful wilderness areas and trails very close, great winter trails for skiing, snowshoeing and fatbiking and the iconic Pacific Crest Trail is easily accessible in a number of locations close to Bend.

We know trails are important! Important for our physical and mental health, important for the local economy, important for quiet reflection time, important for getting the family out for some quality time together, important for walking our pets, important for exercise, important for connecting with the natural world and many other reasons. Trails have never been more important than right now. Between COVID-19 shelter at home orders and unhealthy air quality due to fires, many of us have been cooped up much more than normal. Cabin fever hit many of us and has affected us in negative ways. Central Oregonians are not comfortable being cooped up inside. We need fresh air and exercise.

Let’s all commit to making 2021 the year we do not just take trails for granted. We all love trails and use them often and know how much they enrich our quality of life. But let’s all find ways we can give back to those trails we love. Volunteer for a trail day or two, and donate to the local nonprofits who work on the types of trail experiences you love the most. Talk to your trail buddies and challenge them to do the same. We have a great trail system now, but how much better it would be if we all did our part to give back.

Woody Keen is the trails director for the Central Oregon Trail Alliance. Contact Keen at woody.keen@cotamtb.com.

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