New trust fund will help pay for trail work in the Pasayten
By Marcy Stamper
Miles of trails in the Pasayten Wilderness will be accessible again, cleared of brush and other obstacles, thanks to a unique fund set up by two devoted hikers from the Seattle area that will pay for seasonal trail crews.
Dianne and Joe Hofbeck, lifelong hikers and lovers of the outdoors, started a charitable trust last year to exclusively fund seasonal trail workers in the Pasayten.
These workers do regular maintenance, such as clearing fallen trees and cutting brush, along with major projects such as repairing bridges, said Dianne.
The Hofbecks have spent a lifetime exploring the natural world on foot, kayak and bike. When they retired in 2000, they began volunteering on trail crews with the Washington Trails Association (WTA) and later, directly with the U.S. Forest Service.
In that time, they’ve become extremely dedicated volunteers — Joe has done more than 500 trail-work trips (days) with WTA, and Dianne did more than 250.
“That’s a significant contribution — there are only 25 or 30 people who’ve done 500 trips,” said Alan Carter Mortimer, WTA’s field programs manager, who’s worked with the Hofbecks on trail projects for 20 years.
Through all their time working on trails, the Hofbecks have witnessed up close the growing need for maintenance. They’ve also seen how productive the young adults who do seasonal trail work are.
“I will tell you, they are strong — it’s not like going with volunteers. They can get a lot of work done,” said Dianne.
While the Hofbecks have explored all over Washington, they chose to focus on the Pasayten because its vastness — it spans 531,000 acres — makes it particularly special.
“The Pasayten is one of the largest roadless areas in Washington state — if you really want to get away, that’s where you go,” said Dianne.
“We started to realize how strapped the Forest Service is for trail work,” said Dianne. “It seemed the Pasayten is such a large wilderness, with so many miles of trails and so little money.”
The Hofbecks, who have no children, decided they wanted to contribute a large part of their estate to improving trails, said Joe in a presentation last week to the Methow Valley Trails Collaborative, a separate organization dedicated to improving and maintaining local trails.
In setting up the fund, the Hofbecks wanted to be sure the money would pay only for wages and supplies for trail workers — not overhead. The arrangement was worked out as an annual gift to the Forest Service, with conditions attached. “There’s not much of a precedent, so it took a long time to go through the procedure with the government,” said Dianne.
This first year, they will spend $7,500. The season will be abridged because of lingering snow, so that should pay for two workers, said Dianne. The annual gift is expected to increase as investments on the principal generate income. The money will be split proportionately between the Methow Valley and Tonasket ranger districts.
In the next few years, the Hofbecks plan to turn over administration of the trust to a younger “trails-savvy friend,” who will become the trustee after the Hofbecks’ death.
“When we both have croaked, the bulk of our estate goes into the trails trust to fund trails in the Pasayten Wilderness, hopefully in perpetuity,” Joe told the collaborative.
While WTA runs 1,000 volunteer trips a year, from one to eight days, volunteers usually don’t accomplish enough to complete a job in a single trip, said Carter Mortimer. For some projects, such as a bridge rebuild, the trail has to be closed until the work is finished.
The ranger district and WTA typically consult in the fall, once the Forest Service budget has been set, to identify priority trails, said Dianne.
This year the Methow Valley Ranger District has 10 seasonal employees, up from six last year, said Clark Simpson, trail program supervisor for the district. They have $95,000 allocated for trail maintenance, plus $285,000 in grants.
The district aims to maintain main trails annually, which includes key trails that lead to the Pasayten and popular routes such as the Pacific Crest Trail, Cutthroat Lake and Blue Lake, said Simpson.
Once they’ve cleared downed trees, they start construction projects such as bridges, and then move on to trails that don’t get as much use. These goals require a significant amount of volunteer labor, said Simpson.
The volunteer program relies on input from the Forest Service to coordinate the trips and, often, to pack in gear. “We always view it as a partnership,” said Carter Mortimer.
In addition to contributions by WTA volunteers, the Forest Service gets help from groups like the Methow Valley Back Country Horsemen and the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance.
“The important thing is for people to know how endangered that [seasonal trail] job is — and the whole trail system across the nation,” said Dianne. “Those trails take maintenance — you can’t just let them go.”