U.S. Forest Service honors Trinity Divide project along the Pacific Crest Trail

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is critical for protecting places like the Trinity Divide in California.

Hikers on the PCT along the Trinity Divide in California.

It’s often difficult to complete important, complicated projects when many people and entities are involved, especially when seemingly unscalable obstacles present themselves.

Last summer, after 5 years of hard work, dedication and laser focus by a divergent group of partners, 10,300 acres and 17 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail were permanently protected for public use along the Trinity Divide in Northern California.

Last week, the U.S. Forest Service recognized the rare and valuable partnership that made the project a success.

The recipients of the “Partnership of the Year Award” include the Pacific Crest Trail Association, the Michigan-California Timber Company, The Trust for Public Land and several Forest Service employees.

The Region 5 Regional Forester’s Honor Awards highlight the accomplishments of individuals and groups in all program areas.

“These accomplishments are indicative of the dedication, hard work, and commitment of all our employees,” said Regional Forester Randy Moore. “We pay special tribute to those who demonstrated outstanding professionalism and exemplary leadership in advancing the Forest Service mission.”

The Trinity Divide project team and other award winners during the ceremony on Dec. 11, 2019.

This major trail protection success included funding from The Wyss Foundation and individual private donors and a lot of support and encouragement from local communities in Northern California.

Adding 17 miles of the PCT to the publicly owned inventory through one acquisition is a historic event in itself, one that will likely not happen again in our lifetimes, said Megan Wargo, Director of Land Protection for the PCTA. But an equally important project goal was protecting this biologically rich area that is popular with recreationists for its 360-degree views and picturesque lakes, streams and rivers.

The acquisition creates 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. It also protects the surrounding wildlife habitat. Four vital rivers, including the Trinity and the Sacramento, flow near the property. The permanent protection of the Trinity Divide will enhance local fisheries and provide clear drinking water for nearby communities.

Hikers near Bull Lake along the Trinity Divide—one of many places that will now be open to the public. Photo by Rachid Dahnoun.

“What an incredible honor to have the Trinity Divide project recognized through this award,” Megan said. “The ceremony was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate this accomplishment with so many of the project partners. Thank you to everyone involved with this project for helping to ensure that such a special section of the Pacific Crest Trail is protected for generations to come.”

“The Trust for Public Land was delighted to work with the Pacific Crest Trail Association on this key transaction,” said John Bernstein, Senior Project Manager with The Trust for Public Land. “Our talents meshed well and neither of us could have brought it off without the other. In fact, we are jointly looking at some additional Pacific Crest Trail parcels for our next protection effort.”

You can’t really tell the story of this project without emphasizing that it began with the Northern California-based Michigan-California Timber Company. Company officials understood that the PCT and the surrounding landscape 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 about transferring ownership to the public.

“Michigan-California Timber Company has owned and managed the Trinity Divide lands for over 20 years, and we are proud of our stewardship,” said Chris Chase, Timberland Manager for MCTC. “Though the land holds valuable timber resources, the highest and best use of the property is recreation, aesthetics and water production. We forged a strong and effective partnership and after several years of hard work, we achieved our objective of selling the land to the U.S. Forest Service. This project was successful because of the partnership and we thank the PCTA, The Trust for Public Land and the U.S. Forest Service for making the Trinity Divide Project a reality.”

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Help the PCTA in its land protection efforts by donating to our Land Protection Fund. Your gift will be used to bring private land into public ownership, protecting the PCT and the trail experience for future generations.

Author: Mark Larabee

Mark Larabee is the PCTA's Associate Director of Communications and Marketing. He is editor of the "PCT Communicator" magazine and manages the association's advocacy efforts. He is 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.