REI sponsorship brings renewal to damaged Pacific Crest Trail in Southern California

Repairing and reopening the Pacific Crest Trail after a wildfire can take a lot of time and hard work. In the aftermath of a large fire, burned trees can be in danger of falling, making it unsafe for both hikers and repair crews. Vegetation and roots can burn away, leaving loose soils that can erode or slide with heavy rains. The hot and dry climate of Southern California is especially prone to devastating fires that also result in mudslides once the rain hits.

The San Bernardino and Angeles national forests were hit hard during the past several summers. In 2016 and 2017, more than 289 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in Southern California were closed or seriously damaged from eight separate fires. There also was a huge mudslide in the Tehachapi area.

A broken retaining wall.

At the PCTA, we knew we would need help to repair the damage and make the area safe for trail users. We also knew the extent of the damage made for a daunting and expensive task. So we reached out to a great corporate sponsor, REI, and requested a grant to help fund our lofty trail restoration goals.

REI has been a longtime advocate and steward of the outdoors and trails such as the PCT. The company has a long history of working with many nonprofits, including the PCTA, on projects that support recreation on public lands. Therefore, this project was a natural fit for all involved.

Repairing the fire damaged wall.

With $50,000 from REI in 2016 and 2017, PCTA volunteers and corps crews from American Conservation Experience working in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service performed both the standard tread and brushing work required after fires as well as the technical trail work, including trail building and re-construction. Our crews repaired or rebuilt 123 miles of the trail. The work resulted in a better experience for all PCT users.

Volunteers performed a wide variety of projects after the southern California fires. For example, a new trailhead kiosk at Cajon Pass was built by John Hachey of the PCTA’s Trail Gorillas. John and his crew created the kiosk plans (based on the one that burned), shopped for and transported building materials and constructed the kiosk. This was not your standard trail maintenance project, but it’s a great representation the hard work that volunteers put in to repairing the trail after a devastating fire.

Another time, volunteer Jim Richter got a call from the Angeles National Forest requesting a full scouting and inventory of the PCT in the Sand Fire area. The area was closed to the public at the time, but the U.S. Forest Service gave our highly trained volunteers special permission to enter the area. After reporting their findings, volunteers were again given the green light to enter the burn area to perform repairs so that the area could open. The biggest project for that area was repairing a large wall that holds the trail in place and provides drainage. As you can see from the photos, the crew did an amazing job!

The fully repaired wall! This was one project within more than 100 miles of trail repair.

The largest undertaking is the work in the Mountain Fire closure area, which required extensive technical work in a remote area. The project was divided into three phases. Through the collaboration of REI, the Coachella Valley Hiking Club, the American Conservation Experience, the Paradise Chapter of the Trail Gorillas, the Redshank Riders Backcountry Horsemen Unit, the San Bernardino National Forest and the PCTA, we were able to complete the necessary repairs and reconstruction on just over 7 miles of the trail. Phase 1 opened in 2016 and Phase 2 opened in 2017.  The work continues in 2018 on Phase 3.

ACE crew members move a big boulder in the Mountain Fire burn area.

ACE crew members move a big boulder in the Mountain Fire burn area.

More than 500 hours of volunteer labor went into just these projects alone. Thanks to all involved, it is a time of new beginnings and regrowth for the PCT in Southern California.

“We are grateful for REI’s long-time support and partnership,” said Angie Williamson, the PCTA’s director of philanthropy. “Through their grant programs, REI has contributed more than $325,000 to the PCTA over the past 20 years. REI grants to repair the PCT are part of the company’s commitment to support access to quality outdoor recreation.”

Author: Stephanie Plunkett

Stephanie Plunkett is the Development Assistant for the PCTA. She has been working in the outdoor industry since 2003 and is devoted to environmental causes and helping people learn new skills in the outdoors.