Vancouver, Washington, Trail Dirt Live event highlights 50th anniversary, Eagle Creek Fire recovery efforts

The historic Pearson Air Museum in Vancouver, Washington, was the setting for the PCTA’s Trail Dirt Live event on Oct. 23. The event was held in conjunction with the Partnership for the National Trails System conference, and capped off a year of special events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System Act.

Liz Bergeron addresses the Trail Dirt Live audience at the historic Pearson Air Museum in Vancouver, WA.

Around 100 people filled the historic hangar at Pearson Field Airport, where they enjoyed conversation and beverages — including beer generously provided by PCTA donor Rainier Brewing Company. PCTA volunteers, donors and staff were joined by a number of guests from other national scenic trails who were in town for the national trails conference.

National Trails System Act supporter surprises the audience

The evening presentation, introduced by PCTA Executive Director and CEO Liz Bergeron, featured a surprise speaker: 98-year-old Jean Matthews. Throughout this 50th anniversary year, we’ve highlighted inspiring words that helped rally support for the 1968 National Trails System Act. Some of those words were written by Matthews, who was an information officer and speechwriter for the U.S. Department of the Interior from 1962 to 1968. She supported Interior Secretary Stewart Udall (as well as Lady Bird and Lyndon Johnson) in their efforts to rally congress to create and pass the NTSA and other landmark conservation legislation like the Wilderness Act.

The audience almost held their breath as Jean spoke about what it was like to support the creation of the NTSA. “We knew it was something special,” she said, “and I was honored and thrilled to be a part of it.”

Jean Matthews (left), who helped rally support for the 1968 National Trails System Act, with PCTA Columbia-Cascades Regional Representative Dana Hendricks.

She further remarked — with a tinge of resignation — that such a visionary, bipartisan act seemed inconceivable today. “I’m honored to be here tonight, and am so happy at the work that all of you do on behalf of our national trails,” she said.

Her short remarks were met with awestruck and appreciative applause.

Review of a successful 2017 for PCTA

Liz then updated the audience on the PCTA’s 2017 accomplishments, noting that support from members, volunteers and donors made all the difference:

  • $2.3 million in private funding received
  • $2.4 million value of volunteer hours
  • 13,000 members
  • 96,657 volunteer hours donated to the PCT
  • 1,556 acres acres along the trail permanently protected

The PCTA’s Associate Director of Trail Operations Justin Kooyman then highlighted some continuing threats to the trail in the form of unauthorized use by bikes, snowmobiles and off-highway vehicles; transportation and utility corridors; private land development; and climate change. On a brighter note, Kooyman also celebrated the more than 90,000 volunteer hours spent maintaining 1,781 miles of the PCT.

Awards for extraordinary volunteers and Mount Hood Chapter’s 25th anniversary

The PCTA’s Columbia-Cascades Regional Representative Dana Hendricks next described the extraordinary work done by the PCTA’s Mount Hood Chapter volunteers. The chapter invested roughly 20,000 hours to repair heavy damage on the PCT caused by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge. At the center of these efforts was the Gorge Trails Recovery Team that included the PCTA, Trailkeepers of Oregon, Friends of the Columbia Gorge and Washington Trails Association.

Another highlight of the evening was the celebration of the Mount Hood Chapter’s 25th anniversary. One of the chapter’s founders, Steve Queen, told the crowd how, in 1993, he attended the “Golden Spike” ceremony in Southern California marking the symbolic completion of the PCT. “I was inspired to help create a local volunteer chapter in the Portland area,” Steve said, “but had never done trail maintenance before.”

Steve Queen, one of the founders of the PCTA’s Mount Hood Chapter, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. 

The rest is history, as they say, and the Mount Hood Chapter has become a powerhouse in the world of PCTA volunteers. Steve then introduced the first of the evening’s two award winners. Mount Hood Chapter officer and volunteer leader Roberta Cobb received the “Extra Mile” Award for her amazing efforts coordinating partners on the Gorge Trails Recovery Team.

Roberta Cobb (center) receiving the Extra Mile Award, with Liz Bergeron (left) and Dana Hendricks.

Dana then presented Bill Carpenter a special Lifetime Achievement Award. Bill is the PCTA’s Mid-Oregon Chapter’s volunteer coordinator and is responsible for 165 miles of the PCT from Breitenbush Lake near Mount Jefferson south to Windigo Pass.

Bill Carpenter receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Trail Dirt Live was a great event, and an opportunity for all of us at PCTA to say thank you and celebrate everyone who values the Pacific Crest Trail and supports the work we all do to protect, preserve, and promote the trail.

National trails conference an opportunity to network, share, and reflect

The Partnership for the National Trails System conference included professionals and volunteers from national trail organizations and federal agency partners charged with managing the nation’s systems of national scenic and historic trails. PNTS connects nonprofit trail organizations and federal agency partners to further the protection, completion and stewardship of the 30 National Scenic and Historic Trails within the National Trails System.

Gary Werner, executive director for the Partnership for the National Trails System, addresses the audience at the conference opening.

The 50th anniversary of the National Trails System Act has given all of us working on behalf of our nation’s trails an occasion to reflect on accomplishments and discuss the many challenges associated with managing the trails and protecting their scenic, recreational and cultural values.

More than 200 people from around the country attended. The conference included a variety of educational sessions over two days covering topics such as land management and resource conservation, engaging new audiences, and innovation and technology. Mobile workshops took advantage of national trails in the area, including the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail and the Oregon National Historic Trail.

PNTS conference attendees on a mobile workshop to Beacon Rock State Park, where they learned about the geologic history of the Columbia Gorge.

The national trails around the country are all in various phases of development. The opportunity to gather and share ideas is important as staff, volunteers, and land management agencies work hard to protect the trails for the next 50 years and beyond.

PCTA staff posed with Vicki Christiansen, the new Chief of the U.S. Forest Service (holding “50 years” sign) and Beth Boyst (far right), Pacific Crest Trail Administrator for the Forest Service.


PCTA Regional Representative Ian Nelson contributed to this report.

Author: Scott Wilkinson

Scott Wilkinson is the PCTA’s Content Development Director. A former professional musician, Scott has 20+ years of experience in almost every marketing role. Before joining the PCTA he was a marketing/creative director at West Virginia University and the University of Oregon. A serious outdoor addict, Scott is an experienced whitewater paddler, hang glider pilot, flyfisher, mountain biker, and (of course) hiker and backpacker.