Southern Oregon’s Busiest Club: Siskiyou Mountain Club
When someone sees a real need in an area, like disappearing hiking trails, it takes more than hard work and determination. Revitalizing an entire wilderness takes passion.
One of the original founders and Executive Director of Siskiyou Mountain Club Gabe Howe recognized a trail system in decline and decided to help several years ago.
“I started hiking in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness area in 2006,” he says. “I became intrigued by the area through looking at maps and inquiries and I had some really formational experiences out there. I was in my early 20s and I’ve had some real profound moments out there because the area is just defined by a really remote nature, but I was also watching the trails out there disappear from maintenance drought combined with damage from after the 2002 Biscuit fire.”
After spending some time clearing part of the trail with his wife, Howe noticed how big of a difference they can make. Along with researching and being trained on trail maintenance, he called on friends and family to help out.
“I was encountering conditions of thousands of trees down for a mile and creating stacks you had to crawl over and under,” he says. He even reached out to other wilderness organizations but was met with a general sense apathy from them.
The club was officially formed in 2010 “as a small group of volunteers with a trunk full of old tools and the determination to restore a single trail route through the Kalmiopsis Wilderness area.”
Today Siskiyou Mountain Club maintains five different areas. “We brought back to life entire trail complexes that have been completely forgotten, we got these routes featured in national magazines, and we have brought these trail systems back to life that have disappeared.”
Howe expresses this all wasn’t accomplished without serious hard work and difficulties. He adds, “We have a budget of about $300,000 to $350,000 dollars, maintain about 280 miles of trails, we have permanent staff, strong internship program, a seasonal staff, and we’re able to pay our staff a strong wage and we’ve got a little thriving organization.”
How the club assesses and works on a trail is looking for lost trails or trails soon to be lost. Howe explains, “We look to see if that trail is well engineered in the first place and if we can maintain it and it meets the criteria, we go in and open it up.” Working on a single trail involves several people, from paid staff to volunteers to interns. Howe says none of this work is possible without a strong group of people.
Along with revitalizing and maintaining trails, the club’s vision is also to promote them. Howe takes the importance of wilderness trails seriously in how they function and what they mean to people.
“Trails are the arteries of our national forests and our wildernesses,” he says. “They are the very place with which people engage with their public land. This is where people go to have that American experience of wilderness. Without that opportunity, people become disconnected from the wilderness, from themselves, and the legacy that the people before us built with these trails. People put a lot of work into this before us and I would consider it a dereliction of duties not to grow their legacy.”
Howe hopes Siskiyou Mountain Club shows the public the importance in taking care of wilderness trails and forests in general. “What we’re effective at is inspiring people and showing them they can make a really big difference through hard work.” What he hopes is for people to not be discouraged by hard work that requires attention and care over and over again. “It’s very reproductive work, like doing dishes or cleaning. You have to keep going back to these places. You can’t do it and walk away with a success. It’s an ongoing sort of thing.”
Siskiyou Mountain Club continues to be successful in creating and maintaining trails in some of the most beautiful parts of Oregon. It has been equally successful in working patiently and tirelessly on each project, ensuring for hikers an experience unlike any other.