PCTA defends Pacific Crest Trail from threats

Hiking into California's San Jacinto Wilderness from the north, the Pacific Crest Trail winds its way through large boulder fields and high-desert scrub across long switchbacks that eventually bring the Snow Creek drainage into full view. High up on stately “San Jack,” the north face couloirs are still filled with snow at the end of March, even in this driest of years. The view is breathtakingly beautiful, and as we walk, my mind shifts to a more peaceful state.

That’s the PCT experience we must protect, though at times, it can feel like an illusion.

Turn around on the same trail and the view of San Gorgonio Pass is strikingly different. Interstate 10 relentlessly hums as it crosses the desert floor. Windmills turn day and night, converting the reliable breeze into electricity for Southern California homes and businesses.


Above: The PCT passes through Squaw Valley ski area at mile 1143. (Photo: Kolby Kirk)
Top: Windmills and the trail intersect in Tehachapi, Southern California. (Photo: Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management)

While it sure would be nice, it’s naive to think that the PCT could wind its way for 2,650 miles across three states without intersecting roads and power lines or coming close to civilization.

But as the trail takes us into some of the best wild and scenic places in the country, it’s easy to forget that just over the way a new housing development, road project, or high-tension wire may be pushing closer, threatening the peace and serenity trail users seek and deserve.

At PCTA, we confront threats to the trail every day; from proposed timber harvests and ski area expansions to energy projects and illegal trail use by motorcyclists, mountain bikers, and snowmobile riders.

With a small staff usually stretched thin, it’s difficult to contain every problem that pushes in on the trail or threatens the trail experience.

Consider:

  • New power lines that would cross the trail are proposed in the Mount Hood National Forest of Oregon. In Southern California, PCTA is working with the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and San Diego Gas & Electric to reduce the effects that the Sunrise Powerlink, a massive electrical transmission line, will have on the trail experience. This line will connect proposed solar power to the east with metropolitan San Diego.
  • In Southern California, a handful of windmill projects are proposed that would, if left unchallenged, intersect the PCT. It’s already happened in the Tehachapi area, where an agreed-to setback left the trail meandering through a wind farm, cut by new service roads as if it wasn’t there.
  • In both Southern and Northern Oregon, PCTA is closely monitoring proposed natural gas pipelines. Residential developments are also planned in Southern Oregon on private lands near the trail.
  • In Northern California, Oregon, and Washington, proposed timber harvests on private property, where the trail is but an easement, mean that it’s likely the trail will be clear-cut. PCTA works with landowners as much as possible to mitigate the effects of these projects, but sometimes, they happen with little consultation.
Clear-cut logging in the Columbia Cascades.
Clear-cut logging in the Columbia Cascades. (Photo: Pacific Crest Trail Association)

About 200 miles of the PCT still cross privately owned land. PCTA and the Forest Service, our partner in protecting the trail, have identified roughly 1,500 parcels that we’d like to protect from development. Through partnerships with land trusts and other organizations, government acquisition programs or on our own, PCTA hopes to buy these properties and turn them over to the public or get them protected through another method, such as a conservation easement.

We’ve already taken steps in the past few years to protect several parcels, and we are in the very early stages of planning a capital campaign that would kick-start a concerted, multiyear effort to buy land from willing sellers. Needless to say, this is a multi-million-dollar endeavor. And we won’t be able to do this without support.

But even if we had enough money to buy all that land and protect every mile of trail and every view from every ridge, this wouldn’t end the threats to the trail. Far from it. The sad truth is that the majority of the threats to the trail come from proposals on public land.

When the U.S. government declared the PCT “complete” in 1993, it held a Golden Spike ceremony in Southern California. That was 25 years after President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the National Trails System Act of 1968, which declared the PCT and the Appalachian Trail the first two National Scenic Trails. Even now, 44 years later, only 11 National Scenic Trails exist in the United States.

While it’s true that there is a continuous right-of-way for the PCT, in many places, it’s nothing more than a 20-foot swath that gives users access. But the right-of-way does nothing to protect the experience that trail users have come to expect. Nineteen years after the Golden Spike, saying the trail is “complete” is just another illusion.

Shot-up PCT trail sign.
Shot-up PCT trail sign near Lake Hughes, Calif. (Photo: Kolby Kirk)

Many federal forest managers, in an admirable effort to boost recreational use of and access to public lands, are considering motorized travel management plans that could potentially conflict with the PCT. For example, in the Sequoia National Forest, a draft travel-management plan proposes nine motorized trail crossings of the PCT in addition to several dirt roads — all in a 9-mile stretch. To us, this is unacceptable.

For the North Cascades, Congress is debating a bill calling for the rebuilding of flood-damaged Stehekin Valley Road in a location that would obliterate the trail. The result would create a potential road walk for PCT users.

The federal government is constantly considering special use permits on public land for utilities, commercial outfitters, mining and mineral exploration, competitive foot-races, and communication sites.

The government is also constantly selling timber from public tracts. Thinning forests to keep them healthy and reduce the potential for wildfire is necessary. A federal project to eradicate invasive weeds in Northern California is beneficial to the landscape. Still, both have the potential to be a detriment to the trail experience.

That’s why PCTA has built solid partnerships with federal land managers. Our relationships help us monitor these proposals and provide thoughtful testimony that, in the long run, protects the trail. We support the Bureau of Land Management’s current effort to establish a national policy for managing National Scenic Trails. And we are working with our partners in the Forest Service to develop a management policy for the PCT.

There is much to be hopeful about. Large swaths of once-private land have become public land in recent years with our help.

  • The Tejon Ranch in Southern California will eventually be home to many miles of new trail through an agreement between the Forest Service, PCTA, the landowners, and the Tejon Ranch Conservancy, a new local land trust. A new alignment for the PCT in this area, while agreed to, is still several years off.
  • Our Keene Creek conservation easement in Southern Oregon, which permanently protected a mile of the PCT, is a testament to what we can do as an organization when we all pull together for a common cause.
  • And the recent partnership between PCTA and the Anza-Borrego Foundation to protect 40 acres with a water source in the Southern California desert, speaks to the power of teamwork.

In the past decade, PCTA has become a first-class trail organization. Our membership is constantly growing, our private donations have risen despite the economic downturn, and our volunteers have accomplished more than we thought possible.

We have increased maintenance and safety training and are building a force of future volunteer leaders who will take over stewardship of the finest hiking and equestrian path in the world. In 2011, our volunteers and core crews put in more than 115,000 hours on the trail, maintaining 1,096 miles in 367 separate projects.

This effort is proof that as an organization, we have the power and stamina to overcome anything. As we continue to grow our volunteer base, our advocacy work becomes more sophisticated as well. Our partnerships with state and federal land managers are strong because of mutual respect and good communication.

And our dedicated staff, spread over three states, is singularly focused and driven by our mission to protect, preserve, and promote the Pacific Crest Trail as an internationally significant resource for the enjoyment of hikers and equestrians, and for the value that wild and scenic lands provide to all people.

And that’s no illusion.

 

About PCTA

Mark Larabee is managing editor of the Pacific Crest Trail Communicator, the magazine of the Pacific Crest Trail Association. This article is reprinted, with permission, from the June issue.

The mission of the Pacific Crest Trail Association is to protect, preserve, and promote the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail as an internationally significant resource for the enjoyment of hikers and equestrians, and for the value that wild and scenic lands provide to all people. PCTA is one of the outdoor and environmental non-profit organizations that Trailspace supports. Visit www.pcta.org or "like" PCTA on Facebook to help support its mission.

Filed under: People & Organizations

Comments

FromSagetoSnow
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June 8, 2012 at 11:06 a.m. (EDT)

I think that to expect wilderness-like conditions in anyplace outside of an actual wilderness area is unrealistic. 

Public lands are for multiple use: Hiking, hunting, fishing, grazing, logging and electricity production.  Pretty much anything short of paving it for a mall or a housing complex is pretty much game.  Is it realistic to expect to reserve the entire forest from Canada to Mexico for nothing but hiking? 

I love to hear people gripe about wind towers.  In the 80s and 90s people were fighting to get more wind energy online.  I used to make wind towers and every time I see one I think of it as one less terrorist from the major middle-east oil producing nations.  Now I make solar material and I can't wait to hear people gripe about how horrible they are. 

Alicia
TRAILSPACE STAFF
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3,051 forum posts
June 9, 2012 at 8:14 a.m. (EDT)

I think you raise some interesting and valid points, FromSagetoSnow.

I'm curious — what do our members think are the greatest threats to outdoor recreation?

Callahan
245 reviewer rep
1,469 forum posts
June 9, 2012 at 4:31 p.m. (EDT)

development

Sebastian_C
BRAND REP
280 reviewer rep
15 forum posts
June 10, 2012 at 11:03 a.m. (EDT)

ignorance, apathy, and a general lack of action by citizens concerned about our environmental crisis: loss of wild places, loss of species, contamination of water, climate change. i hope the PCTA continues its great work so the PCT is not just another victim of the assault on the planet!

Tipi Walter
225 reviewer rep
1,194 forum posts
June 11, 2012 at 9:46 a.m. (EDT)

I call it the War On Nature.  When I was born in 1950 we had 2 billion people on the planet, we now have 7 billion.  Here's a kicker, by 2050 America will have 450,000,000 people, and this increase will need at least a 50% increase in homes and roads and so-called "development".  Here's a relevant quote from Ed Abbey:

"Why is it that the destruction of something created by humans is called vandalism, yet the destruction of something created by God is called development?"

As bonobo humans eat up their world, we should see it as a War on Nature, a peculiar desire for the human species to tame and destroy wilderness.  Just look at what the California settlers did to the California Indians in 1849-1850---over 100,000 Indians killed in two years.  And the Golden Bear state?  The bear was eradicated yet it's still on the state flag.

Here's a quote I remember from the movie Matrix which is worth repeating---

Agent Smith:  "I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure."

FromSagetoSnow
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June 11, 2012 at 10:27 a.m. (EDT)

As far as development goes I'd like to see cities get taller and bigger rather than have them spread out like a crepe.  Keep cities in one place, make zoning tougher to prevent suburban sprawl.  I don't think that the world is overpopulated.  They told us in grade school in the 80s that by the 2000s people would be falling off the Earth, my social studies book actually had a picture showing this.  I can still drive a few minutes from my driveway and be someplace where I cant see a single person.  There is also plenty of food, another thing we were told would be impossible. 

I love it when people say we are a virus/disease, etc.  I always ask them if they will volunteer to do the noble thing but they usually say that its someone else who needs to go. 

Tipi Walter
225 reviewer rep
1,194 forum posts
June 11, 2012 at 11:10 a.m. (EDT)

FromSagetoSnow said:

As far as development goes I'd like to see cities get taller and bigger rather than have them spread out like a crepe.  Keep cities in one place, make zoning tougher to prevent suburban sprawl.  I don't think that the world is overpopulated.  They told us in grade school in the 80s that by the 2000s people would be falling off the Earth, my social studies book actually had a picture showing this.  I can still drive a few minutes from my driveway and be someplace where I cant see a single person.  There is also plenty of food, another thing we were told would be impossible. 

I love it when people say we are a virus/disease, etc.  I always ask them if they will volunteer to do the noble thing but they usually say that its someone else who needs to go. 

 It's not about death or human eradication, it's about lowering our birthrate over time and finding the carrying capacity of humans in their habitat.  We play God with bear or wolf or wild pig cullings to protect our habitat, but where is the limiting of humans?  Habitat destruction is a human behavior and part of overpopulation.  Are bears or rattlesnakes or the ravens destroying their habitat?  If not, why do we?

Seth Levy (Seth)
TRAILSPACE STAFF
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1,055 forum posts
June 11, 2012 at 12:13 p.m. (EDT)

Disclosure: I work part time for the PCTA.

For me - the biggest threat to outdoor recreation is the belief that it needs to be "XTREME" in order to be authentic.  As a confirmed long-distance hiking addict, I've been part of the problem by suggesting that longer trips are "better" or more "meaningful." I'm going to start with myself here, and try to get out on more frequent, shorter jaunts, rather than infrequent epics.

Reachcontrol
0 reviewer rep
4 forum posts
June 21, 2012 at 2:44 a.m. (EDT)

I live and work on the PCT.  I'm interested in an organization that maintains and promotes its intended use.

Tipi, you're an interesting person.  I don't always agree with your posts, but I always seem to enjoy reading them.  I can imagine you as part of the solution, and less a part of the problem.

Callahan:  I see you mention development, and your pic has a dirtbike in it.  I will never think of my self as a sage or anything the like, but that seems an odd juxtaposition of icon and sentiment.

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