Over the past several years, the Wallowa Whitman National Forest (WWNF) has witnessed a significant increase in use by locals and out-of-area visitors. Multiple user groups have local trailheads, campgrounds, and parking areas at or close to capacity.
Understanding that the bulk of the WWNF budget has moved from recreation to fire, as well as understanding the significant impact outdoor recreation has on our local economy, The Trailhead Bike and Ski shop in Baker City has initiated the Trailhead Stewardship Project (TSP). The TSP was created to facilitate the need for human and monetary resources on the WWNF, helping to mindfully and effectively bolster Outdoor Recreation for our locals and visitors of Baker County.
While the trail systems throughout the Elkhorns and southern Wallowas are remarkable to say the least, these trails have deteriorated significantly (some are even unpassable), in large part due to lack of funding. The Trailhead is partnering directly with the WWNF to spearhead trailhead maintenance and repair, wayfinding, and coordination of all user groups to identify trail user needs. The TSP will not be specific to biking and hiking trails, but include all user groups; biking, hiking, equestrian, ATV/OHV, etc.
With a primary focus on Baker County, the TSP will encompass all trails within the Elkhorns, Southern Wallowas, and other trails in and around Baker County. Our initial projects will focus on trails within Wilderness areas – namely, the North Fork John Day Wilderness (Baldy Unit). The TSP aims to protect these motorized, non-mechanized, pristine areas through trail maintenance and stewardship. The Trailhead plans to invest in this project and initially hire one seasonal full-time employee specific to this project. As grant opportunities arise, we will continue to invest in trail infrastructure in our community, and hopefully be able to include additional staffing dedicated to trail maintenance and repair.
Outdoor recreation is one of the main reasons people visit Baker County. With or without any advertising or marketing, a significant number of visitors are already traveling to Baker County from outside of our region. It becomes imperative to capitalize on the influx of visitors, educating them, and directing them to spend locally.
Therefore, in addition to trail maintenance and repair, it’s the Trailhead Stewardship Project’s goal to partner with all Baker County communities and initiate the discussion on the economic impact of outdoor recreation in our region.
This is a significant priority for the TSP and the one of the main drivers behind it.
The Trailhead Stewardship Project will be encouraging all locals and visitors to understand and appreciate the paid and volunteer work that is being accomplished and in turn, show their support of our locally owned small businesses.
The Trailhead Stewardship Project’s goal is to effectively manage the influx of visitors, so it has a positive impact on our community, and not become a detriment to our community.
We have witnessed other communities being overrun with visitors from outside of the area; visitors that are not respecting local values, not respecting proper trail etiquette, and not respecting the local way of life.
One of the main reasons we all call Baker County home is because of the many outdoor recreation opportunities. Whether it’s biking, hiking, fishing, hunting, or something else, we all recreate outside. With the influx of visitors we witnessed during the summer of 2020, managing the growth in users will be critical to our experience and our way of life. The Trailhead Stewardship Project will actively work with all community partners to inform and educate visitors from outside of our community to respect and appreciate Northeastern Oregon.
Not just safety of those recreating in Baker County but also the safety of our community and first responders. Cell service is extremely limited, wayfinding is currently less than ideal, and EMS response times are long for the majority of these locations.
More visitors to the area had the Baker County Search and Rescue stretched incredibly thin this past summer. This will continue as more and more new visitors continue to come. If we are able to establish clear and consistent messaging and signage including cell phone service locations as well as overall wayfinding, it will only help.
The overarching goal of the Trailhead Stewardship Project is to bring our trail infrastructure back to life and help manage the influx of visitors to Baker County, all while having a positive impact on our local economy and our local way of life. This will involve not just work on the trails themselves but how the overall messaging, managing, planning and coordination are conducted.
Baker County will continue to see increased visitation for outdoor recreation, and the TSP is dedicated to help manage this influx so it has a positive impact on the visitor, the local outdoor recreationalist, and our small, locally owned businesses.
Brushing, tree removal, tread reinstatement, and Trailhead improvements.
Brushing, tree removal, tread reinstatement and Trailhead Improvements.
Kiosk and signage improvements, garbage service, Dog waste bags, painting and parking lot improvements.
Start clearing of overgrown western end of trail and reestablish tread.
Overall signage improvements as time and funding allows.