Learning trail maintenance skills at Big Bend Trail Skills College in southern Oregon

Over the years, the arrival of PCTA’s annual Trail Skills College in southern Oregon has meant that the Pacific Crest Trail maintenance season is officially underway. As such, Trail Skills College proves a valuable volunteer outreach tool for PCTA and a great place for veteran and aspiring PCT volunteers to gather.

 45 volunteers gathered on the shores of Hyatt Lake for the Big Bend Trail Skills College near Ashland, Oregon. Photo by Joe Smith.

45 volunteers gathered on the shores of Hyatt Lake for the Big Bend Trail Skills College near Ashland, Oregon. Photo by Joe Smith.

While the ultimate goal of Trail Skills College is to train volunteers in a variety of trail skills, some of the most valuable time is spent socializing with fellow volunteers at meal time and in front of the fireplace. Fireplace? In June?! Yes, the annual Big Bend Trail Skills College usually takes place in mid-June at the Bureau of Land Management’s Hyatt Lake campground in Southern Oregon. June weather on the Howard Prairie plateau at elevations ranging from 4,000’ to 5,000’ can be unpredictable. As the 2016 weekend approached, Southern Oregon was experiencing an early season heat wave with temperatures in the Rogue Valley reaching triple digits. But, by the time the event was scheduled to begin the temperatures had settled back into the more normal range. With that, day time temperatures in the vicinity of Hyatt Lake were about perfect while evening and morning temperatures were cool and crisp.

Volunteers learned how to clear trails with traditional crosscut saws. Photo by Ivan Rokos.

Volunteers learned how to clear trails with traditional crosscut saws. Photo by Ivan Rokos.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Medford District has been a long time partner in the Big Bend Trail Skills College event, providing PCTA instructors and students with outstanding camping on the shores of Hyatt Lake as well as use of the Mountain View Pavilion. While participants base camp along the lake, the hub of activity is located at the pavilion which offers electricity, cover, and a large fire place. For the last few years, volunteers from the Klamath Falls based Backcountry Horsemen of Oregon High Desert Trail Riders have cooked for the event using the Chapter’s cook truck, a box truck converted into a rolling kitchen. Thank you to our returning volunteer chef, Lona!

A highlight of Trail Skills College weekend was watching Angie clean, repair, and restore her beloved crosscut saw, “Sweet Tooth.” Photo by Joe Smith.

A highlight of Trail Skills College weekend was watching Angie clean, repair, and restore her beloved crosscut saw, “Sweet Tooth.” Photo by Joe Smith.

This year trail skills course offerings included Basic Saw Crew training, Intro to Trail Maintenance, Tread and Drainage, Waterbars and Checksteps, as well as chain and crosscut saw certification. While PCTA staff certainly play an important role in the Trail Skills College program, we couldn’t do it without volunteer instructors. In 2016, eight volunteers instructed across three different course offerings. The enthusiasm of volunteer students and instructors alike was infectious.

The McLeod is a common hand tool for trail maintenance. Here a volunteer is using a McLeod to tamp down dirt in a drainage feature.

The McLeod is a common hand tool for trail maintenance. Here a volunteer is using a McLeod to tamp down dirt in a drainage feature.

One of the highlights of Trail Skills College weekends is the opportunity to recognize outstanding volunteers. This year PCTA presented Southern Oregon Rockers crew leader Mick Mc Bride with the 2015 Regional Trail Maintainer Award for the Big Bend region. Mick was recognized for his active leadership in the founding of the Southern Oregon Rockers. With many regular Southern Oregon Rockers in attendance at Trail Skills College, this was the perfect opportunity to thank Mick for his dedication. Mick reflected on his 2016 Trail Skills College experience… “what a great opportunity for so many trail loving folks to come together, work together, share ideas, and most importantly have a great time!”

 Mick Mc Bride was presented with the 2015 Regional Trail Maintainer Award for the Big Bend region. PCTA’s Big Bend Regional Representative Ian Nelson thanked Mick for his active leadership in the founding of PCTA’s local Southern Oregon Rockers volunteer group.

Mick Mc Bride was presented with the 2015 Regional Trail Maintainer Award for the Big Bend region. PCTA’s Big Bend Regional Representative Ian Nelson thanked Mick for his active leadership in the founding of PCTA’s local Southern Oregon Rockers volunteer group.

Southern Oregon Rockers volunteer and Siskiyou Mountain Club board member Angie Panter shared… “Joining a volunteer crew to work on clearing a trail of downed trees or overgrown brush or even eroded pathways can be rewarding both mentally and physically. Attending any Trail Skills College is such a great opportunity for people to come together, join like minds, make new life-long friends and learn new skills. I appreciate so very much all the work that goes into putting these weekend classes together. I plan on continuing to attend and even teaching classes in the future to help inspire new volunteers and hikers to be a positive influence and to bring more people together with great experiences!”

14 volunteer sawyers were certified to operate crosscut and chainsaws during the Trail Skills College weekend. Thank you to the volunteer sawyers and volunteer saw instructors for teaching these important skills.

14 volunteer sawyers were certified to operate crosscut and chainsaws during the Trail Skills College weekend. Thank you to the volunteer sawyers and volunteer saw instructors for teaching these important skills.

You too can experience volunteering on the PCT by joining a day, weekend, or week-long volunteer effort. Opportunities in Oregon, California, and Washington are listed at www.pcta.org/volunteer. The next trail skills training in southern Oregon is scheduled for July 16 on Mt. Ashland. You can also support our trail crews by donating today.

Author: Ian Nelson

Ian Nelson has been the PCTA’s Regional Representative for Northern California/Southern Oregon for more than ten years. He is based in the beautiful Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon and enjoys exploring the many wilderness areas in the region.