Crest Runners hit the trail in Southern California

A new U.S. Forest Service program designed to improve visitor experiences along the southernmost 100 miles of the PCT is underway.

As thru-hikers head out, two “Crest Runners” are patrolling the trail from the Mexican border to Warner Springs, providing information and encouraging positive trail experiences for hikers, horseback riders and volunteers. This is a pilot program that will be evaluated at the end of the season to see if it will continue.

Spencer Bleadorn, Recreation/Lands Officer for the Cleveland National Forest, is supervising the program. He said the Crest Runners started March 8 and March 23 and will be patrolling and monitoring the PCT until about mid-July. “After that they will transition to other recreation positions, however, they will periodically go back to the PCT to see who is using the trail in those later summer times,” he said.

The Pacific Crest Trail just south of Warner Springs, California. Photo by: Carter Chaffey

The Pacific Crest Trail just south of Warner Springs, California. Photo by: Carter Chaffey

Modeled after the traditional Ridge Runner programs widely used in the east, the Crest Runners were born out of a desire to minimize the effects of an increasing number of PCT thru-hikers starting at the southern border during peak spring season.

In this area, the PCT passes through a fragile desert ecosystem. Because of the general scarcity of water, vegetation and organic soils, desert lands are particularly susceptible to damage and are slow to recover. To spread out large groups, the Forest Service limited the number of long-distance permits issued in 2015 to 50 per day, but only for trailheads in this area.

The Crest Runners are Leave No Trace specialists who will provide information about minimizing the affects of travel and camping and proper techniques for washing dishes, gathering water and safely using fire. They also will help monitor visitor impacts to campsites, water sources, and riparian areas. They will hike and camp along the trail.

“We are seeing an increase in trail use during peak thru-hiking season and need to have a better presence on the trail,” Bleadorn said. “We don’t have solid data for the PCT for the first 100 miles and need that data gathered. The ultimate goal is to start data collection for dispersed campsites, fire rings destroyed, trash collected, number of encounters with other trail users. The other aspect is the visitor contacts made, teaching good LNT principals to newer hikers, and ensuring hikers are respecting the PCT.”

As the PCT becomes more popular, it’s up to all of us to tread lightly on the land and to consider how our presence influences the places and wildlife that are there to enjoy so that others can have similar experiences after we’ve gone.

Author: Mark Larabee

Mark Larabee is the PCTA's Advocacy Director. He is the former editor of the "PCT Communicator" magazine and co-author of "The Pacific Crest Trail: Exploring America's Wilderness Trail" published in 2016. Larabee is a journalist, part of a team who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for The Oregonian newspaper. He hiked the PCT across Oregon for a 2005 series for the paper and has been with PCTA since 2010. He lives in Portland.