The Trinity Divide Land Acquisition is a big leap toward protecting the entire Pacific Crest Trail

In 1993, the Pacific Crest Trail was completed in Southern California’s Soledad Canyon with the driving of a ceremonial golden spike. But it was complete only as a continuous path. The PCT’s wilderness experience wasn’t fully protected from nearby development—and still isn’t today. Many miles of the trail remain on private property, typically with an easement allowing trail users to legally cross the property.

Hikers near Bull Lake in the Trinity Divide—one of many places that will now be open to the public. Photo courtesy of The Trust for Public Land by Rachid Dahnoun.

The PCTA has been working to permanently protect every mile of the trail—and today, in a historic leap toward achieving this goal, we’re thrilled to announce that along Northern California’s Trinity Divide in the Klamath and Shasta-Trinity national forests, 17 miles of the PCT that was previously on private property—as well as 10,300 acres of land surrounding the trail are now in public ownership and permanently protected.

An extraordinary partnership to protect an invaluable wilderness resource

This major trail protection success is the result of an extraordinary partnership between the PCTA, The Trust for Public Land, the Michigan-California Timber Company, the U.S. Forest Service, The Wyss Foundation, individual private donors and the surrounding local communities. Many individuals and entities worked together for nearly five years to find common ground—with the ultimate goal of protecting this biologically rich area that is popular with recreationists for its 360-degree views and picturesque lakes, streams and rivers.

The California Pitcher Plant is one of many rare species of plants that thrive in the Trinity Divide.

The acquisition will create new public access for hikers, horseback riders, campers, hunters and anglers to 10 lakes and many streams, and opens hikes on new loops using the PCT and other area trails. Four vital rivers, including the Trinity and the Sacramento, flow near the property, enhancing local fisheries and providing clean drinking water for surrounding communities.

A timber company committed to the environment

The project began with the Northern California-based Michigan-California Timber Company, which realized that the landscape and the PCT were important ecological and recreational resources that should be in the public domain. The company, with a record of sustainable forestry practices and concern for the environment, initiated a discussion with the PCTA, The Trust for Public Land and the U.S. Forest Service about transferring ownership to the public.

“Michigan-California Timber Company has owned and managed the Trinity Divide lands for nearly 25 years, and we are proud of our stewardship,” said Chris Chase, Timberland Manager for MCTC. “Though these lands contain valuable timber resources, it is evident that the highest and best use of the property is recreation, aesthetics, water production and wildlife habitat.”

Outdoor recreation is also big business for Siskiyou and Trinity Counties and towns, with millions of visitors coming annually to the region because of the beautiful natural resources. This area is within a half-day drive of the San Francisco Bay area, and people come from all over the world to enjoy the splendor of this area.

“The Pacific Crest Trail is so important for the communities in Siskiyou County. Not only is it a draw for tourists who help drive our small-town economies, it’s an asset for locals who escape to it for the health of their minds and their bodies.”  —Siskiyou County Supervisor Ed Valenzuela

The Trust for Public Land and the PCTA have worked together for decades to protect the trail and its surroundings, securing properties that contribute to the overall goal of closing trail protection gaps and in-holdings within national forest boundaries.

Historic land ownership pattern is a challenge to land protection

While the purchase protects 17 miles of the trail, those miles are not contiguous. They are spread in separate parcels along a winding 30-mile stretch of trail. These properties are like much of the public land throughout the West and, particularly, California—in a “checkerboard” ownership pattern, alternating between private and public land. That’s the result of the 1800s-era railroad land grant program in which the federal government gave every other parcel to railroad companies to spur westward development and economic expansion.

Today, the ownership pattern presents significant conservation and land management challenges. As population pressures increase, private landowners big and small are selling their scattered parcels for residential development or resource extraction, drastically impacting the California landscape and its biological, recreational and public health resources. Roads cut to reach new homes destroy wildlife habitat, interrupt migration corridors, and degrade the quality of rivers and streams.

Permanently protecting these lands ensures that trail users will continue to enjoy a scenic outdoor experience, uninterrupted by development. It also helps preserve watershed landscapes that provide sustainable drinking water to millions of Californians.

The land acquisition helps protect the watershed for the Trinity River, above. Photo by Bob Wick of the Bureau of Land Management.

“This is the largest, single public land acquisition for the Pacific Crest Trail this generation will ever see. While we pause to celebrate this incredible partnership and accomplishment, it’s important to note that our work to fully protect the PCT is not finished.” —Megan Wargo, PCTA Director of Land Protection

Beth Boyst, Pacific Crest Trail Administrator for the U.S. Forest Service, hailed the land protection effort, saying the partnership represents the best of collaboration between private and public entities.

“When you travel through the Trinity Divide, the alpine lakes, flowers, ridgelines and scenic vistas have a sense of timelessness,” she said “It connects a fragmented land ownership pattern and ensures that these lands will provide outstanding opportunities for hunting and fishing, hiking and horseback riding, and important habitat protection for wildlife and fisheries.”

“Many thanks to Michigan-California Timber Company, the Pacific Crest Trail Association, The Trust for Public Land, and the U.S. Forest Service staffs for their outstanding leadership in providing access to and conserving over 10,000 acres for future generations.” —Beth Boyst, Pacific Crest Trail Administrator for the U.S. Forest Service

The project was completed using private donations, a grant from The Wyss Foundation and significant funding from The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). In fact, this project was one of the top priorities nationally for funding from the LWCF. Created by Congress in 1964, the LWCF does not use taxpayer dollars. Each year, $900 million from offshore oil and gas drilling leases are set aside as mitigation, used by federal agencies, states, counties and cities to protect land and build parks.

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.