Virtually every mountain biker in the Pacific Northwest is aware of the spectacular Ape Canyon Trail on the southeast side of Mount St. Helens. So how is it that a trail with this reputation does not receive regular maintenance?
For at least 10 years, the Forest Service’s budget has not been sufficient to hire the crew needed to effectively maintain trails. In fact, they have had only enough funding to maintain about 25 percent of the trails on federal land. Don’t expect things to improve any time soon. The current budget proposal targets the USFS for even more cuts. As a result, the responsibility for keeping trails in good condition has fallen to users.
With the snow finally melting, reports about conditions at Ape Canyon and Smith Creek have been coming in. The comments about Ape Canyon range from “quite a bit of overgrowth farther up” to “virtually no problems.” The lower part of Smith Creek is littered with limbs and downed trees, as is the long spur road that takes riders back to the Ape Canyon trailhead.
SHIFT is coming up on August 18th through 20th. On the 19th, we will have a work party. The question is this – where should our focus be?
Key items on our list have been to open and maintain ski and snowmobile trails near Marble Mountain and to clean an epic route on the west side of St. Helens. With Ape Canyon and Smith Creek needing work, do we change our plan and work there, or do we continue to open and maintain other trails?
Several people have recommended that we adopt the Ape Canyon Trail during SHIFT. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, Ape Canyon is a signature trail, and we’d all like to see it in great shape. On the other, I worry that if we focus on Ape and Smith Creek at SHIFT, we will be expected to maintain it annually, and the slackers will once again get the benefits without making a contribution.
Ask yourself how many people hike and ride Ape Canyon annually. I’m guessing it’s thousands. How many of those people are willing to help maintain it? If everyone who hiked or rode there carried a handsaw and spent 15 minutes trimming, there wouldn’t be a problem, but we know that’s not going to happen.
NWTA currently has several sub-chapters, including Growlers Gulch Racing. My proposal is to have NWTA see if anyone is interested in heading up a sub-chapter called Friends of Ape Canyon. They would recruit a few members and schedule a couple of work parties up there each year.
I realize that opinions about this differ. Feel free to share yours in the comment section. If you are unable to post a comment, email it to me and I will add it.