‘Save-A-Trail’ project is a collaborative effort

Photo courtesy of Methow Trails

The eroded jeep track used as a trail up Lewis Butte would be decommissioned and an alternative trail would be constructed as part of the proposed project.

By Ann McCreary

A popular network of trails that climb Lewis Butte and travel around Riser Lake has been chosen for a “Save-A-Trail” project aimed at improving the trails and restoring areas damaged by overuse and erosion.

Close to Winthrop and easily accessible from Lower Rendezvous Road, Lewis Butte and Riser Lake trails are used year-round by hikers, mountain bikers, hunters, skiers and snowshoers.

Because of their popularity and the resulting damage to the land, the trails have been chosen by the Methow Trails Collaborative for next year’s Save-A-Trail project. The Trails Collaborative was created in 2016 with a goal of opening and maintaining trails by joining forces with other interested organizations.

Methow Trails, part of the collaborative, is taking a lead role in the Lewis Butte and Riser Lake project, acting as fiscal sponsor and organizer, said James DeSalvo, Methow Trails executive director. Methow Trails maintains the valley’s large summer and winter sport trail system.

This will be the second Save-A-Trail project sponsored by the Trails Collaborative and led by Methow Trails. The first project took place in July this year on the Falls Creek/Burch Mountain trail on U.S. Forest Service land. More than 70 volunteers cleared and improved a 5.5-mile stretch of trail that had been closed since a fire in 2014.

“What we hope to do is step in with any agency or private landowner and say, ‘Where is there a trail of interest to a diversity of users that we can help?’” said DeSalvo. “Even if we can’t commit to continually maintaining it, it could be rebuilt sustainably with modern tools and it would naturally just last so much longer.”

WDFW land

The informal network of trails at Lewis Butte and Riser Lake is located on land owned by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “It’s got to be one of the most popular trails in the area,” said Brandon Troyer, manager of the WDFW Methow Wildlife Area.

“Some of the trail segments are simply too steep and they’re beginning to erode. We can address these problems through sustainable trail building practices that meet industry standards. Sustainable tails will better protect the resources we manage and provide recreational opportunities to a diversity of users,” Troyer said.

Many hikers ascend Lewis Butte via an old jeep track that climbs up the face of the steep hill. The heavily used jeep track has developed deep ruts that continue to erode.

Hikers walking around Riser Lake, particularly along the southern portion of the trail, encounter water on the trail and have created new trails around wet areas, damaging the vegetation and soil with additional trails.

Methow Trails has developed a preliminary proposal to restore and improve an estimated 7.6 miles of trails in the Lewis Butte/Riser Lake area. It includes decommissioning about two miles of trail and building approximately 5.7 miles of new trail.

There are currently 4.5 miles of trail around Riser Lake, according to the plan developed by Methow Trails. The proposed project would construct 2.7 miles of new trail to move the route away from areas that are seasonally wet, DeSalvo said. The work may also involve building some structures over the water, he said. About .25 mile of trail around the lake would be decommissioned.

There are 3.1 miles of trail in the Lewis Butte area. Plans call for constructing 3 miles of new trail and decommissioning the 1.75-mile jeep trail. The decommissioned trails would be rehabilitated through contouring and replanting, with participation from the Methow Conservancy, DeSalvo said. The mileage estimates may change as plans are finalized, Troyer said.

The Save-A-Trail project received $6,699 in donations through the Give Methow fundraising campaign in October, and an anonymous donor provided an equal matching donation after the campaign, bringing total funding to $13,398, DeSalvo said.

Trying something new

WDFW welcomes the assistance from the trails organizations, Troyer said. “This is a good pilot project. We’re not inherently a trail building agency, so this is a great opportunity for us to try something new while staying true to our goals and mission,” he said.

“Trails are pretty important in the Methow,” Troyer added. “As an agency, we strive to support the local economy and community character of our valley. I believe we’re supporting community character values with this project. The Methow Wildlife Area looks forward to working with the trails collaborative to better meet the needs of the Methow Valley.”

Local trail organizations and public agencies like WDFW and the Forest Service share a common goal — “a win for trails,” DeSalvo said. “We offered to fund raise, professionally design it and get hundreds of hours of volunteer time to improve it and fix the issues.”

There are still some hurdles to overcome before the project can move forward, including a cultural resources survey of the project area. Those surveys can be expensive and could potentially discover resources that would be adversely impacted by the trail project, Troyer said. The survey could begin this year, with completion after the snow is gone next spring, he said.

Like the first Save-A-Trail project, the Lewis Butte/Riser Lake project would rely heavily on volunteer labor, DeSalvo said. A work party is tentatively planned for May 19 and 20, he said.

The Methow Trails Collaborative includes the Methow Valley Ranger District, Methow Trails, the Methow Wildlife Area, Evergreen Mountain Bike Association, the Methow Valley Backcountry Horsemen, Methow Snowmobile Association, Washington Trails Association, Pacific Crest Trail Association, Rendezvous Huts, guides and outfitters, backcountry skiing, mountaineering, trail running, dirt biking and ATV clubs.