Clearing the way

Local trail volunteers have a passion for preservation

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

A windstorm ripped through North Idaho in mid-March, leaving thousands of residences without power and just as many trees blocking roads and damaging structures.

Many local trails systems also suffered. However, those who braved the early spring chill the following weekend to get out and explore those systems noticed that fresh cuts in the downed trees indicated a swift and thorough cleanup effort — but by whom?

In the case of Pine Street Woods — which saw hundreds of trees down in the March storm — the cleanup effort was a combination of professionally hired loggers and the Pend Oreille Pedalers: a Sandpoint-based bicycle-club-turned-nonprofit focused on building and maintaining trails throughout the Idaho Panhandle.

Pend Oreille Pedalers volunteers help clear downed trees from the trail at Sherwood Forest in Sandpoint. Photo by Jason Welker.

Kaniksu Land Trust, the organization that oversees the Pine Street Woods, partners with local groups to keep trails accessible. KLT Executive Director Katie Egland Cox said that while POP maintains the woods’ narrow trails, the Sandpoint Nordic Club takes care of the wide trails.

“KLT could not do all the work that is needed to maintain and upkeep the trails on our own,” Cox said. “We are so grateful for the time, energy and resources our partners devote to trail work and maintenance.”

Among the volunteers helping to coordinate the recent Pine Street Woods cleanup was Jeff Thompson, trail director for the North Idaho Trails Coalition. NITC is a recently formed umbrella organization for local trails groups, currently a collaboration between KLT and the two groups managing the Pine Street trails.

Thompson said that while NITC is still shaping its mission, one of its top priorities is connectivity. He said NITC aims to bring expertise and assistance to all local trails, whether they be “from downtown to the mountains” or from your “house to the grocery store.”

“We’re focused on non-motorized moving around — no matter what you’re doing it for,” he said.

Thompson said that unlike many recreational pastimes, trail enthusiasts are often the ones wielding the tools and spending the hours to keep beloved areas accessible.

“Trail users have a certain amount of passion for what they do, and when there’s no one out there to do the work, they do it themselves,” Thompson said, adding that this praise is limited to those groups that maintain trails legally — creating relationships with land managers and using practices that help preserve the trails.

In the end, Thompson said it’s about working hard to provide everyone with experiences in the outdoors. With 25 years of professional trail work under his belt, the NITC director is as close as someone can get to being a certified authority on why those experiences are so important. To him, it’s a matter of getting back to basics.

“If you break it all down — everything — we’ve got Mother Earth, and we’ve got these routes that we walk,” Thompson said, “and that’s how it all started.”

For more information about the North Idaho Trails Coalition, reach Thompson at [email protected] Learn more about the Pend Oreille Pedalers at pendoreillepedalers.org.

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