Outdoors Blog

They cook the backcountry meals and haul your gear. You provide the labor.

How trail crews use hand saws to clear logs

The Idaho Trails Association, a mostly volunteer organization, uses hand tools to maintain backcountry trails. That means using crosscut saws to clear fallen trees. Here, Tim Martin, left, and Jeff Halligan saw a log.
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The Idaho Trails Association, a mostly volunteer organization, uses hand tools to maintain backcountry trails. That means using crosscut saws to clear fallen trees. Here, Tim Martin, left, and Jeff Halligan saw a log.

If you've always wanted to camp deep in the woods but don't have the experience or the desire to carry all that gear, the Idaho Trails Association has a deal for you.

The organization will haul your gear and provide meals on a weeklong excursion to some of Idaho's most beautiful places. You just have to come ready to work.

ITA coordinates volunteer "work vacations" to attack the trail maintenance backlog around the state. The organization is growing quickly — from 15 projects in 2015 to 21 last year to 30 planned for this year.

Many of the projects fill quickly but there are several opportunities to help out this year with the expanded project calendar.

"We've got some that are in new areas and they're a long ways away, so we're having trouble getting people interested in those projects," said Jeff Halligan, the executive director of ITA. "... The really neat part about it is they're fairly remote and they're in beautiful areas."

Among the available opportunities:

Russell Ridge, July 22-28: This is a weeklong project to repair a ridge-top trail in the Selkirk Mountains of North Idaho. Water, food and camp gear will be packed in and a cook provided. Work will include digging tread, cleaning water bars and reconstructing trail. "We're camping high on the ridge, so the views will be spectacular up there," Halligan said. It's rated difficult.

Cooper Flat, July 21-28 and July 29-Aug. 4: This project involves a 9-mile hike to Cooper Flat cabin, which will serve as the kitchen for the week. Volunteers will camp around the cabin and work their way 3 miles uphill, clearing logs from the trail. Mules will carry the camping gear to the site. "We'll mostly be logging out in the headwaters of the Selway River, which will be spectacular country," Halligan said. It's rated difficult.

Little Wood River, Aug. 5-11: The camp will be set up at a trailhead, so campers and large tents are allowed. Meals will be provided. The project will involve clearing logs and brush and otherwise repairing the Kale Creek trail outside of Carey, with views of the back of the Pioneer Mountains. It's rated difficult.

Upper Priest River Trail, Aug. 19-25: Volunteers will pack in their own food and gear a mile and a half and work on the northern end of the Idaho Centennial Trail in North Idaho. It's rated difficult.

Upper St. Joe River, Sept. 1-8: A packer and cook will be provided for a trip to clear logs and brush and repair a trail along the river. "Great swimming and fishing after work," the ITA website says. The trip is rated moderate.

Other projects will attempt to repair sections of long trails that haven't been fully open for years, including the 30-mile Seven Devils Loop and the 13-mile North Fork Lick Creek trail, Halligan said.

Last year, the ITA utilized 215 volunteers on its projects. It could use nearly 400 this year.

"Last year, we cleared 103 miles of trail but we also spent five days with 12 people working on 600 feet of (boardwalk) trail, so the mileage doesn't really reflect what we do," Halligan said. "... (The trails) are going away faster than we can repair them. That's always going to be an issue."

The ITA hopes to develop its volunteers of the future through a new youth program that kicks off this year with a project funded by the Wood River Women's Foundation. About 10-12 high school-aged kids from Blaine County will spend a week working on a project outside Ketchum with teachers serving as counselors.

The plan is to expand the program to three or four projects next year, pulling youth from other areas of the state.

"We weren't seeing a lot of young kids coming out and working on projects," Halligan said. "Every once in a while we'll get whole families. We wanted to reach out to that age group and see if we could get them excited about the backcountry."

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