Letter to my Readers

Letter to my Readers

It isn’t easy for a writer to admit the truth in the adage, “a picture is
worth a thousand words”, but there it is. And if a mere picture is worth
that much, imagine the value of a firsthand, eyewitness experience. It’s
nothing short of priceless.

I’m preaching to the choir, I know: no one understands better than a hiker
that the most lyric prose and the most spectacular photograph is simply no
match for actually walking in the woods or crossing an alpine meadow in
full bloom.

The joy of being on the trail is why we’re all here as members and
volunteers of Washington Trails Association. And it’s why I’m writing this
particular letter at this particular time.

Seeing is believing.

In past letters, I’ve talked about the vital work performed by our
volunteer trail maintenance crews; I’ve talked about our lobbying efforts
to earn a more equitable distribution of the state’s NOVA funds to protect
our wilderness and roadless areas; I’ve talked about how WTA works in
concert with other nonprofit organizations to champion the cause of
backcountry preservation.

To all of these appeals, you’ve responded generously with your time and
money, and I hope you will continue to do so now. But this time, I’m going
to ask you to do something more. I’m going to ask that you go see for
yourself the need for and the result of the work that we do together.

Specifically, I’d like to invite you to visit four trails among the
9,000 miles of footpaths that crisscross our state. These four are
a microcosm of the issues that we face as stewards of the rich and
varied — and sadly endangered — wild country that is our
backyard.

I believe that if you walk the Craggy Peak Trail, the French Cabin Creek
Trail, the Denny Creek Trail and the Lower Skokomish, you’ll see much more
graphically than my words could ever express, you’ll see more than photos
on our web site or in Signpost could ever show, the real treasures
that are literally at our feet — and the gravity of the threats that
could render those treasures unusable and even worthless.

The Craggy Peak Trail in the fall
The Craggy Peak Trail in the fall

The Craggy Peak Trail in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest could be the
“poster child” for our campaign to overhaul the state’s NOVA program. In
the late 1980s, the Sierra Club worked on this trail for two years,
leaving it in prime condition. Now, barely 10 years later, the trail is
destroyed beyond repair, the result of off-road vehicles (ORVs) driving
unchecked over fragile pumice soil.

There are those who might not see this as a serious problem. After all,
there are more than enough NOVA funds for ORV trail relocations. In fact,
there’s a surplus of money available for ORV projects this year. So the
Craggy Peak Trail could just be moved somewhere else that’s looking to be
gutted with tire tracks. In the meantime, nonmotorized trail projects
aren’t completed or even begun.

The reason? Lack of funds for nonmotorized projects.  That’s why your
volunteer efforts and your gifts to WTA are so important. Won’t you make a
statement by making a contribution today? Then sit down and write a letter
to your state representative or sign up for one of our work crews.

You might wonder if Craggy Peak is so bad, then why hike it? Well partly,
to see it.  To stride in the knee-deep wheel ruts. But if you make the
13-mile round trip to the Boundary Trail, you’ll also see an alpine lake
and views of the Dark Divide and its surrounding volcanoes. And if you go
in late summer, you can challenge my record for the most huckleberries
eaten on a single hike.

French Cabin Creek Trail
French Cabin Creek Trail

The French Cabin Creek Trail in the Wenatchee National Forest crosses
private land that was dropped from the Checkerboard Exchange — and left
unprotected. The Cascades Conservation Partnership (CCP) hopes to acquire
those lands through a combination of public and private funding. WTA is on
the CCP steering committee, guiding their efforts to save more than 45
miles of trail in Puget Sound’s backyard. But if funding for the purchase
isn’t obtained, the French Cabin Creek Trail as we know it won’t last
long: the land is slated to be logged by the end of the year.

So take a look while you can. The second mile of trail struggles through a
clearcut that could be a sign of things to come — or simply a sad
reminder of past practices.  Beyond the clearcut, the trail leads you back
into the endangered forest.  There are meadows to wander and if you enjoy
a steep climb, the upper trail ascends Thorp Mountain.  It’s beautiful
country and a startling reminder that when we work to protect these lands,
our efforts and our gifts are not just a contribution, they become a
legacy.

Note: This is a somewhat perilous trail, so make sure to read our tips section.

Waterfall on Denny Creek Trail
Waterfall on Denny Creek Trail

Denny Creek Trail in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is a prime
example of the price of popularity.  Here, I’ll defer to a picture: Greg
Ball is standing on what used to be the trailbed 15 years ago. Today, the
footpath is 18-24 inches below where Greg is standing.

That erosion isn’t from ORVs. It’s from hundreds of thousands of
footsteps, lots of rain and very little restorative attention. This
summer, we’re going to remedy that: we have 24 work parties scheduled on
the Denny Creek Trail. We’ll be rebuilding tread and putting in crib steps
and water bars to help ensure that the Denny Creek Trail can withstand
continued use.

Consider doing “Before” and “After” trips; and while you’re at it,
consider participating in one or more of those 24 work crews too. There’s
nothing like the investment of sweat and blisters to make you feel like
you’re really part of the solution.

The Upper Skokomish Trail
The Upper Skokomish Trail

The Upper Skokomish Trail to Sundown Pass in the Olympic National
Forest is undeniably beautiful, following for five miles the cascading
South Fork of the Skokomish River. It’s also unprotected.  Although the land
borders the Olympic National Forest, it was not included among the acres
shielded by the 1984 Wilderness Act. But there’s hope: it’s part of the Upper
Skokomish Roadless Area, a 6,182-acre parcel subject to new Forest Service
management rules that would prohibit the construct of new roads in such
areas. Unfortunately, the wording in these new rules is weak enough to
leave the first five miles of the Skokomish Trail, along with another
2,500 miles of “roadless area” trails throughout the state, vulnerable to
ORVs and even logging.

Our lobbying and educational efforts need to press forward in order to
counteract weak-voiced, poorly worded laws and regulations that make it
easy for undefended lands to be exploited. In order for us to succeed in
those efforts, we need your support.

It’s clear that our work is far from done, and our need for your dynamic
involvement is far from diminished. In fact, it’s greater than ever
before. The four trails I’ve mentioned here give a glimpse of the
challenges before us. But the truth is, they’re not unique. The truth is,
the issues they bring to light can be found in almost every inch of all
9,000 miles of trail in Washington state.

Certainly I encourage you to visit these four trails. Check out the
Online Hiking Guide for
more information and for driving directions. Go see again why our work is
important and why your involvement in that work is essential. But please,
don’t stop there. Take a moment and make a financial contribution or sign
up for a volunteer work crew today. I know that you’re already a believer
or you wouldn’t be a supporter of WTA. What I’m asking is that you make
what you believe in plain to see.

If you do, there’s a chance that those who don’t yet see or don’t yet
believe will one day experience the fruits of our labor and become
inspired. That’s a powerful legacy to leave.  With your help, the wild
places we enjoy will remain areas of retreat and recreation for
generations to come. And that’s something worth believing in.

Yours truly,
Andrew Thorgerson