On a Sunday morning when much of Salem is still asleep, 15 ordinary residents of towns such as Keizer, Salem and Monmouth drive the curving roads through farmland to Silver Falls State Park near Silverton, to build an off-road bike trail.
They bring heavy hand tools: clippers and weed whackers, shovels and hatchets, and load them all in a pickup. Then it’s a 2 ½ mile ride, jostling up an access road, and after that a ¾ mile hike up a unused, rutted logging road, covered and thatched with brambles, carrying the tools as they go. Finally, a 3/4 mile scramble through raw forest wilderness, clambering through knee-high brush and over waist-high logs, each step sinking deep into a tortuous mass of dead branches, willful plants, deep-set mushrooms and fern – until the destination, deep in the forest, is reached.
It is then that the real work begins.
“I enjoy building trails as much as enjoy riding them,” says Paul Prough, who is leading the effort today.
“I never met the people that built the other trails here,” says Paul Heuberger. “I don’t have kids: I try to support other people and their kids.”
Prough and Heuberger and the rest of the crew intercept a cleared mountain bike trail, created on earlier weekends, more than three miles up it. They begin where the finished track ends in wilderness marked every few yards by neon orange “flags” on stakes.
Today they advance, following the flags into thick forest. First the new area is weed-whacked, then it is addressed with axes and McClouds (a large fire tool with a long hoe on one side of the head and wide-set teeth on the other,) that “bench cut” a flat, horizontal path in the sloping uneven ground. Limbs and roots are hacked away, massive fern roots and rocks are dug out and soil is pulled down and across the cleared trail. Logs are hauled to reinforce the new edge; rocks are used to support the logs or are carried to stream crossings to create a path over the flowing water.
The work is not easy but the crew is cheerful.
Peter Higbee, semi-retired, smiles, his white shirt grimy from hauling. “I enjoy making trails,” he says. “I hope to ride this trail some day.”
As the group labors on about 150 yards are cleared around the sides of two hills, across a massive downed log and down into and up the side of a creek as sprinkles mist from the sky and the mid-day sky darkens so much that the group jokes they need helmet lights. They work even so, through about 50 overhead thunderclaps until Prough calls it a day “due to celestial events.” The long scramble back through the forest begins.
Everyone is a volunteer, a member of the Salem Area Trail Alliance or Salem Oregon Mountain Bike Alliance, or just a trail lover. Prough and Dewayne Powell began the project in April 2013 by beginning conversation with park staff, and the five miles of single-track off-road mountain bike trail they are shooting for will probably be completed in 2015. It’s hard to project the end for sure since the distance achieved on each “build day” varies due to the challenges that each section of trail presents.
“It is a good feeling to know a trail really well,” Prough says. “It is also exciting to think of all the people who will get to enjoy it in the future, hopefully long after I am too old to anymore!”
Before the group disbands, they discuss when too meet next time, to inch their work further into posterity.