The drive south on US Highway 101 along the Hood Canal gave us a forewarning of what lay ahead. For 50 miles there were downed powerlines and poles, trees and massive amounts of debris piled along the sides of the road. The date was Saturday, February 26th and Buckhorn Range chapter President Kris Lenke and I were on our way to a field trip to the High Steel Bridge and Vance Creek Bridge, organized by Lori Lennox of Grays Harbor Chapter. What we were seeing was the aftermath of a heavy wet snowstorm that hammered the east side of the Olympic Peninsula on Christmas Day. 101 was closed from Hwy. 104 to Hoodsport and power was knocked out for 6 days.
After visiting the bridges, Traci Koch of Oakland Bay chapter suggested we see if we could get to LeBar Horse Camp as planned, about 10 miles further up FS Road 23. After going less than a mile the road became a tunnel through the downed trees, carved out by the firewood permit holders who had been working the road. With barely enough room to squeeze through, 3 SUVs and a pickup truck slowly picked our way through and over the logs, snow and debris, finally making it to the bridges over the Skokomish River and LeBar Creek and the Lower S. Fork Skokomish R. Trailhead. The firewood cutters had gone no further, and our journey ended half a mile from LeBar Horse Camp. https://photos.app.goo.gl/GtC3fSSVJt4X1fJ38
Seeing all this devastation, Lori suggested the idea of a regional sawyer recertification/work party to try to clear the road in advance of what was obviously going to be a very busy season of logging out trails. I sent an email the next day to Jai Lust, Wilderness and Trails Coordinator of Olympic National Forest and Rebecca Wanagel, long-time WTA (WA Trails Association) Crew Leader and newly appointed Trail Crew leader of Peninsula chapter – BCHW. Rebecca took the reins in her teeth and organized a crew of WTA sawyers who, along with Kris Lenke and me, headed up to tackle the mess on Saturday March 26th. We discovered a contractor already at work on the road (Yay!) and proceeded to clear trail. We worked to open the LeBar access trail, the 120 access trail, and the Lower S. Fork Skok trail #873 to the top of the switchbacks. In the meantime, Rebecca recertified me as a B-level sawyer. A WTA crosscut crew had already opened the main trail from the lower TH the week before. https://photos.app.goo.gl/xAxpXUbNBxRHLphG9
On April 26th Rebecca, Jai and I made a scouting trip to the area in advance of the BCHW Regional work party scheduled for May 20-22nd at LeBar Horse Camp, and we estimated that there were hundreds of trees down on the 140 spur trail (1.4 miles) alone. (I made another scout trip upriver on May 7th to Camp Comfort and the 100 spur trail where I encountered even more devastation (200+ trees/mile)). Based on what we saw, Rebecca scheduled another WTA/BCHW joint WP for May 14/15th. They cleared the 140 trail and 2/3 of the 100 trail that weekend in torrential rain. Members of the Mountaineers also joined in to provide swamping.
The Regional BCHW work party began Friday May 20th to clean up LeBar Horse Camp and finish logging out the Skok trail as far as the 100. Rebecca ran the sawyer crews made up of WTA sawyers Martin Knowles, Tom Griffith, Tien Vo, Bernt Ericsen, and Paul Hornberger. Peninsula chapter sawyers Jim Hollatz and Rick King, with Suzanne King and Kris Lenke swamping. Harold Weise of Olympic chapter provided pack support for the sawyer crews while Larry Sammons of Buckhorn and I demolished and removed the old rotting roof from the vault toilet in camp in preparation for the new roof.
On Saturday the trail work continued, with sawyers Traci and Wayne Koch from Oakland Bay chapter joining the party. Larry and I worked on extending the highline poles to raise them higher in sites 3 and 8 while Peninsula chapter members Theresa Percy and Stephanie Burns and friend Dean joined Kris who worked all day to clean up campsites, while Peninsula members Linda Morin and Judy Sarles helped Dutch Oven Queen (and Buckhorn Secretary) Kim Merrick make and serve everyone a delicious dinner!
On Sunday the mighty sawyers completed the last difficult mile of trail, which opened about 6 miles of main trail and 3 miles of spur trails, making 3 possible loops of riding using FS road 2353 to return.https://photos.app.goo.gl/9KvYYDhDHsYtbCxV6
Another work party has been scheduled by Rebecca to continue logging out the trail upriver to the ford at Church Creek and beyond, eventually opening the entire 12.5-mile trail to the upper TH parking lot and the Upper Skok trail. Other WTA crew leaders have several trips planned to get this trail back up to snuff.
I want to thank everyone who pulled together and worked so hard to accomplish all that we did over the last 2+ months and apologize to anyone I may have left out. The collaboration between Backcountry Horsemen, WTA and the Mountaineers was truly inspiring. I especially want to acknowledge Rebecca for being an extraordinary human being who has more energy and enthusiasm for trails than anyone I have met and was instrumental in pulling this collaboration together.
In her own words, “I cannot begin to describe how many trees we have cut out. The efforts put forth by everyone involved have been inspiring. The teamwork between agencies is heartwarming, and the stock support we had all this past weekend from Harold Weise (Olympic chapter) was a lifesaver. Special thanks to Magic, Archie and Frank, the 4-footed volunteers. It was lots of talented, generous, hard-working, tough, trail-loving people from multiple agencies and chapters. This was a herculean effort by so many who were involved. The blowdowns were in the many, many, many hundreds. A final, but important note: all these many hundreds of trees have been cut with full attention to safety and not one mishap or incident. We are proud of our safety record and the communication we maintained between crews using radios.” LeBar Horse Camp is now open to the public and the trails are open for riding. Please consider making this beautiful camp and trail one of your riding destinations soon!
Submitted by Bob Hoyle
Director/Work Projects Coordinator
Buckhorn Range Chapter -BCHW
(And long-time WTA member)