June 6 was National Trails Day: A national celebration of all things trails that happens every year. This year, the day came and went without a lot of fanfare. There were no celebrations and no ribbon cuttings for new trails. The Central Oregon Trail Alliance did not host a large trail work project as we normally would during that week. These are not normal times, not a normal year. Between COVID-19 and a country in unrest after the death of George Floyd, the organizers decided to cancel and not promote National Trails Day for 2020.

Due to the pandemic, the U.S. Forest Service has had all volunteer trail organizations in stand-down mode nationwide. COTA has done no trail work in over three months, a new record for the organization. March is a time when we typically wind down our winter trails fat bike grooming program and transition into training mode for crew leaders.

We hosted only one training session for 2020 before the shutdown happened, a Level 1 course that was attended by 40 volunteers. That is step one in a three-part series to become a trail steward and/or crew leader for COTA, and we rely on these folks to head up volunteer crews working on the forest and other land managing agency local trails.

Our build season starts with work on lower elevation trails, which likely have had some use all winter but are in need of a tune-up. Those trails open for work around April 1, and serve as the locations for fieldwork for our trail steward training sessions . We transition into mid-elevation trails, starting with cutting felled trees resulting from wind and snow loads. After trails are cleared, we work on water management and tread work: clearing out drains to pull water off the trail to prevent water-based erosion, then we keep chasing snow melt up the hill to higher elevations as the snow melts. Winters are longer and harsher up there, so more downfall means more log out with bigger trees requiring chainsaws and trained operators (the Forest Service requires a two-day certification course).

COTA tries to get trail work done while the soils still have some moisture in them, which makes for better shaping of berms, corners, rolling grade dips to shed water and jumps.

As noted, this year’s National Trails Day came and went without a lot of fanfare. We do know, however, the trails saw heavy use that day. From mountain biking to hiking to trail running, trail use is as busy as it has ever been.

During the period of time now known as COVID-19, Americans have been flocking to trails and our public lands. This is not just a local pattern, but the same is happening nationwide. Maybe it is because gyms were closed, maybe it is because we were all trying to beat off cabin fever. Whatever the reason, I would hope that all trail users, long-termers and newbies alike, understand and appreciate the value of trails.

How can you help?

Donate to your local trails group, or pledge to do some volunteer work when we can get back to work. Every time you go out and recreate on trails, know that trail was likely built by and is maintained by volunteers who are trail users just like you.

Woody Keen is the trails director for the Central Oregon Trail Alliance, a nonprofit, all volunteer group working with federal forest agencies and land managers to build and maintain trails.

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