Eugene’s heavily used Skinner Butte is getting some TLC to try to limit the wear and tear caused by thousands of roaming visitors.
For starters, a team of trail builders is installing about 45 wooden steps above the basalt climbing columns on the west side of the butte.
Plus, new cable handrails are going in as part of the $44,893 project, which is likely to be completed in a couple of weeks.
Old, flimsy handrails attracted curious hikers to the slope uphill of the basalt columns.
“People have always looked at (the handrails) and thought there was a trail,” Pam Symond, a city of Eugene landscape designer, said last week at Skinner Butte.
In addition, a new quarter-mile West Summit Trail will provide a single, defined gravel path on Skinner Butte’s western slope.
People often have blazed their own trails to reach the top of the butte above the popular rock climbing area. The result is a web of crisscrossing paths, with trampled oak savannah habitat and areas subject to accelerated erosion.
Between the Willamette River and the city center, Skinner Butte rises about 240 feet above nearby neighborhoods, reaching a height of 682 feet above sea level.
Hikers scrambling on the trails on the butte’s western slope set free rocks, which tumble down toward the columns and create danger for climbers below.
Rain makes the butte’s western slope slick, Symond said, so the trails have been dangerous for hikers as well.
“We want to put a safe trail up to the top,” she said.
The new trail will make it easier for hikers to reach the top from the west, said Micah Villanueva, a worker for Yakima Construction, a Medford-based company that won the bidding for the trail-building.
Using a mini excavator, a jackhammer, pickaxes and other rock-breaking tools, the trail builders have etched a path into the slope. The team last week worked on installing 8-by-8-inch timber steps along the new trail, just above the columns.
“Before (the installation of the steps), we crawled up here,” Villanueva said.
The West Summit Trail will be steep, Symond said, with hikers likely considering it difficult. She said the path will be in the city’s “explorer” trail category, used for more challenging trails.
The new trail adds to previous improvements by the city of Eugene on Skinner Butte. Yakima Construction in 2015 built 30 wooden steps to enhance a trail leading to the top of the columns.
The new trail connects to the previously reconstructed trail.
Next summer, Eugene’s Parks and Open Space Division plans to add another trail to Skinner Butte, a ¾-mile loop about midway up the butte, Symond said. The design and costs have yet to be determined.
The city recently gave Spencer Butte in south Eugene a trail revamp near the top as well. It added steps to a section of trail near the butte’s summit. The 2015 project cost the city more than $500,000, with crews cutting more than 100 steps into basalt on the 2,062-foot peak.