The Ape Canyon Dilemma

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.

11 thoughts on “The Ape Canyon Dilemma”

  1. I’ve been clearing lower smith and the jeep trail connector for 9 years now. Unfortunately, this year was a late snow melt, followed by a series of health issues. It’s going to take 2 more weeks till my ankle heals if things go well. Otherwise, I’d be all over it.

  2. Your comment speaks to my concerns, Ken. You have taken care of it for nine years. Now – since you were unable to make it this time – people are wondering if it’s going to get cleaned up. Maybe they should grow a pair and get out there and do something.

  3. That “budget cuts” thing is a poor excuse for not doing ones job. It takes a couple of hours to rally volunteers and organize a work party. To leave such a popular trail in that condition is just bad management.

  4. From Jon Jennings: “You’re right on with the slacker factor. As a recovering slacker I now realize trails don’t just happen and it takes work to maintain them. Ape is a cool trail, but it’s heavily used by hikers as well. I avoid it for that reason and would rather put effort into lesser known areas.”

  5. From Ed Knight: “I’m interested in the Ape Canyon thing but not sure about what all it would require – never taken on something like this as we generally sign up and show up for work parties. I need to talk to Yelena and see what she thinks as far as taking something like this on given our pretty busy schedules as it is. I generally am able to make about 4 work parties a year but I think i could squeak in a couple additional ones to head up to AC and at least help out.

    If enough people get signed up for SHIFT I say send a group up to Ape and get the trimming back taken care of. Would be quite a day for that crew for sure given how long the trail is. But still have enough people for the ‘new’ stuff getting worked on.”

  6. I think SHIFT should continue to build out what is around marble. Those trails are far more accessible for average riders. As interest grows in that area then maybe folks can push out further into the trails to do further work. I love riding and hiking trails as much as anyone, but at some point other groups need to engage as well.

  7. Sascha and I will take this on. Jeep – hit me up offline so I can get additional info and figure out some specifics on what’s allowed and whatever else.

  8. A group of us were considering a night ride in a few weeks up to Plains of Abraham via Ape Canyon. I’d be willing to take some loppers up there and clear some of the overhanging brush. I noticed a few brushy sections on a hike in earlier this month.

  9. Go ahead and do what you can, Jeremiah. We are in the process of looking for long-term solutions but would certainly appreciate any work you can do.

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