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BMT Skyline Trail Work

We took advantage of a September respite from smoky skies to clear miles of wilderness trail on the Blue Mountains Trail. It was a major push to clear one of the last few segments of trail through the Malheur National Forest. By next year, we hope to have all sections of the BMT through the Malheur cleared and easy to navigate.

Pip and Erin in the Big Riner Basin.

From September 14-16, our crew of five volunteers worked with staff from the Malheur National Forest to clear 13 miles of the Blue Mountains Trail in one of the most scenic and spectacular sections of the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness.

BMT Section 7 trail map showing the extent of work in green.

Over three days, we removed over 70 trees, brushed out ceanothus and sagebrush, removed tree limbs obscuring and crowding the trail, fixed the sign marking the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness boundary, built cairns to mark the route where the tread was overgrown, and built new tread on an eroding slope.

Our full crew at the Skyline Trailhead.

Our volunteer crew consisted of me, Jared Kennedy, and Pip Redding from GHCC, along with Barbara Bond, Dieter Cohrs, and Steve Silva. Barbara and Dieter returned for their second multi-day stint clearing trail on the BMT; last year they spent 4 days brushing ceanothus and removing small deadfall on the North Fork John Day Trail. It was great having them back and they're ready to join again next year!

Our volunteer crew was joined by MNF staffer Erin Burke and her husky Lizzie for the full three days, and we also got some additional support from Chris Conant, Alisha Marshall, and Jared Bowman.

Day 1: Trailhead to Deadhorse Basin

The day started with over 2 miles of brushing thick ceanothus that had overgrown the trail. This stuff grows back like crazy, so we really wanted to get as much of it cleared as possible. We said goodbye to Jared Bowman, Chris Conant and Alisha Burke after the first day, and continued on with our group of six for the remaining stretch of trail.

Erin and Steve take a break from brushing. Photo by Barbara Bond.
Jared and Pip fix the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness.

Day 2: Deadhorse Basin to Big Riner Basin

Time to pull out the crosscut saw. In the wilderness, chainsaws are prohibited, but the crosscut made quick work of the larger diameter fallen trees that were blocking the trail. It was still a slow go clearing out logjams in the Deadhorse Basin, making some cairns to better mark the trail, and doing lots of limbing and brushing to widen the trail for people and horses.

Pip and Erin at work on the logjam in Deadhorse Basin.
Making progress on the Deadhorse logjam.
We encountered a small lightning-caused fire along the trail. Jared checks to make sure the trail isn't too hot to cross while Dieter watches. Photo by Barbara Bond.

Day 3: Big Riner Basin to Strawberry Lake

The largest logs to be cleared were in the Big Riner Basin, from trees that came down from a high-intensity fire over a decade ago. Good news is that there are numerous reliable streams with refreshing cold water that flow year-round in the basin. From Big Riner to Strawberry Lake, there were many more trees to remove and some tread rebuilding in a short section being eroded by hikers. We made time to explore an unnamed waterfall on Slide Creek and check out Strawberry Lake, before hiking out and heading into John Day for a well-earned meal.

Pip and Steve take their turn working the crosscut saw on a large tree in the Big Riner Basin.
Dieter uses the pickmatic to rebuild the tread near Slide Creek. Photo by Steve Silva.
An unnamed waterfall on Slide Creek that was worth the bushwhack to check out, even after three days of work.

It wasn't all work. We had many bird and wildlife sightings, from a potential encounter with a pine martin to a mountain goat on the slopes of Slide Mountain. A few species of finches, mountain chickadees, and Clark's nutcrackers were common avian companions. For a few of our party, it was their first time in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness, and they enjoyed the abundant whitebark pine and views of the John Day and Logan valleys to the north and south, along with the character of the mountains themselves.

We are in the early stages of establishing our volunteer work corps for the Blue Mountains Trail and other trails in the Malheur, Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman national forests. If you'd like to be a part of a trail crew in the future, here is how to get involved. We hop you can join us!


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