On a hot summer afternoon, SBFC staff, Wilderness Ranger Interns and volunteers met in the historic mining town of Yellow Pine, Idaho. Each season, the Selway Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation brings volunteers into the Selway and the Frank Wilderness areas to provide much-needed wilderness stewardship. Thanks to the National Forest Foundation Matching Awards Program, youth and adult volunteers from five states joined SBFC to provide sustainable access and wilderness conservation in the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states.
The project was to restore the inaccessible Marble Creek wilderness section of the Idaho Centennial Trail. Our volunteers had different reasons for spending a week in the wilderness working to open the trail. Some had attempted to through-hike this impassable section of the Centennial Trail and returned with a commitment to make it accessible again. Others were returning SBFC volunteers, who love wilderness and using crosscut saws. Everyone came for the adventure and an authentic experience deep in the remote Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.
Two experienced volunteer packers travelled narrow, winding dirt roads with 10 mules and horses to pack in a week’s worth of food and a backcountry kitchen. The first morning, eager volunteers pitched in to help Bill and Joe load up the mule panniers with everything from fresh greens and cookies to coffee pots and washbasins. The Wilderness Interns enthusiastically practiced the stock packing skills they picked up in training, while our volunteer cook made sure everything made it onto the backs of the mules. Our kitchen supplies and extra gear then were shuttled 4 miles to the campsite.
The most technical and strenuous work started about 6 miles from the trailhead, where we collided with the Marble Creek log jam. It was framed by a rock crib wall, avalanche debris, a 35 degree scree slope and piled high with hundreds of teetering tree trunks and limbs. This dangerous dead-end forced hikers and equestrians to navigate a detour through deep water, thick willows and along steep, loose hillsides.
The real challenge when dealing with a log jam is that everything is connected. Like a giant game of pick-up sticks, moving one log causes many to move and creates dangerous conditions for everyone working near it. The SBFC leaders and volunteer crew worked with skill to safely dismantle the jam. Then they restored the original trail and obliterated the user-created trails made to navigate around the log jam.
It took several days and many hands to complete the reopening of the Marble Creek segment of the Idaho Centennial Trail. The trail is now accessible for hikers and equestrians. Our outstanding volunteers reported they learned a lot about wilderness stewardship and sustainable access and felt very proud of their trail restoration work. Perhaps best of all, everyone had a terrific experience and several said they planned to volunteer with SBFC again!