More watershed trails for more uses

In the summer months, Rob Cain runs about 80 miles a week on trails in the watershed.

Since there are only 30 miles of authorized trails looping across the U.S. Forest Service and city land above Ashland, he covers the same ground on almost every workout.

But he and other trail users — including mountain bikers, hikers and equestrians — hope that won't be the case for long.

The Ashland Woodlands and Trails Association, of which Cain is president, is working with the U.S. Forest Service and city to nearly triple the number of authorized trails in the watershed, roughly between Mount Ashland and Lithia Park.

The nonprofit is asking the Forest Service to create 36 miles of new trails, as well as authorize 23 miles of existing but unofficial trails, bringing the total to 89 miles.

"The watershed is a huge resource and it's an underutilized resource," Cain said.

In the past few months, the trails association has mapped all of the existing authorized and unauthorized trails in the watershed using a GPS and has drawn up details on suggested new routes.

The group would like to create at least four trails specifically for downhill mountain bikers, complete with jumps and steep slopes, to try to reduce the number of conflicts in the watershed, Cain said. Because trail use has increased substantially in the past few years, tension between downhill mountain bikers and hikers or runners also has increased, he said. The watershed is nationally known for all three activities.

"The issue with the downhill mountain bikers is the high rate of speed they get," he said. "Right now, the bikers riding down from Mount Ashland to Lithia Park have basically only one or two routes to go. If we can reduce the bike traffic by 50 percent on some of these trails, by making trails specifically for bikes, we're probably going to reduce the conflict by 90 percent."

The Forest Service estimates that the lower portion of the watershed, where many of the trails are located, receives more than 50,000 visits annually.

The Forest Service supports the work done by the trails association and the creation of new trails, as long as they conform to environmental standards, said Brian Long, recreation staff officer with the Siskiyou Mountain Ranger District and Wild Rivers Ranger District.

"The AWTA's done a great job of taking on the project and helping us out," he said. "This is an area where we didn't really have enough resources to do it all ourselves."

Forest Service officials also hope the new trail system will discourage illegal trail creation in the watershed. The number of so-called "pirate" trails has increased dramatically in the past 10 years, and has especially grown in the past two, officials said.

The city's Forest Lands Commission has been briefed on the project and is supportive of it.

The trails association, working with the Forest Service and city, will hold two meetings in February to gather community input on the Ashland Watershed Master Trails Plan. The meetings will be held at 7 p.m. on Feb. 2 and 22 in the Ashland library's large meeting room, 410 Siskiyou Blvd.

This spring, the Forest Service likely will begin a National Environmental Policy Act analysis of the proposed trails, to ensure they don't pose erosion problems or risks to wildlife.

The trails association is in the process of raising $50,000 to support the project, which the Forest Service hopes to match. The association already has raised about $20,000 and plans to hold two Mount Ashland Hill Climb fundraising races this year, a run in August and a bike race in September, Cain said.

The nonprofit also will recruit volunteers to work under national experts to construct the trails, Cain said. He hopes to begin construction in about 18 months and have the first trail completed in September 2012. It likely will be 10 or 15 years before the project is finished, he said.

The first trail Cain hopes to complete is the Split Rock Trail, which will connect Mount Ashland to Wagner Butte.

"You'll go along a ridge and see the Wagner Creek watershed on one side and the Ashland watershed on the other," he said.

Although the new trail system likely will draw more users, Cain said he doesn't believe the watershed will be negatively impacted by the project.

"I don't think any of us would be doing this if we thought it would be detrimental to the watershed," he said. "We're going to do careful environmental assessments on these trails."

Cain expects the new trails to create a tourism draw, he said.

"We already have races that draw as many as 500 people and we can do more of that," he said.

Although Cain said he and other avid trail users "can't wait" to have more miles to run, bike or hike, they're also hopeful the project will inspire new outdoor enthusiasts.

"We want to get people out into the watershed because, quite frankly, as Americans we all need to be outside more," he said.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or

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