Happy Trails

Gateway Trail Work…

The Mount Shasta Trail Association has been working for quite a while to complete what it calls The Gateway Trail. When it’s finished in a couple of years, you’ll be able to hike from the town of Mount Shasta all the way up to the Ski Park and Nordic Center, or, by an alternate route, up to the McBride Campground below Bunny Flat.

And it’s likely they’ll get it done. When it comes to trail building, the Trail Association has a good track record. It’s already completed 49 miles of trails in the Mount Shasta region, including the 6.5-mile trail around Lake Siskiyou, and 29 miles of the 57-mile Gateway Trail. 

Photos by John Harch

This year, the Trail Association is working on a 13-mile stretch of The Gateway Trail. It’s facing some deadline pressure, though, because the $1.1 million state grant that’s funding the work includes the requirement that this stretch be completed by the end of this year. Trail Labs, Inc. has been hired to carve out the trail, but with labor and other costs increasing since the grant application was submitted, the Trail Association is scrambling to complete the job without going over budget.

That’s where John Harch and his crew of volunteer trail workers come in. Before Trail Labs can get started, Harch’s crew goes in with loppers and hand saws to clear brush before the contractor gets the heavy-duty
trail work underway with its mini-excavators, tractors and “dozers”. 

Photos by John Harch

Harch’s workers are a motley crew, with a wide range of ages and all sorts of backgrounds. Harch, who’s 67, is a retired general surgeon. His crew members include a professional landscaper, train engineer, fire captain and Forest Service ranger. Many of them are retired. (The Trail Association also gets help from California Conservation Corps crews and from a crew of convicts known as the Deadwood Crew.)
The trail building work is only part of the work done by Harch’s crew. Most of their work comes after the trails are built, with trail maintenance, clearing brush and fallen trees, and preventing trail erosion.

Photos by John Harch

David Tucker retired six years ago from his job as a financial planner for software businesses in the Silicon Valley and, after moving to Lake Shastina, has been helping out with trail work ever since. “It’s relaxing,” he says. “I just rake and cut and shovel, do whatever I’m asked to do. It’s also nice to work with other people who enjoy what they’re doing and leave their egos at the door.”

Although Harch directs the work, his approach is collaborative. He frequently asks his crew members their opinion on how the work should be done, where a water bar should be placed, how to safely dispose of trees that have fallen across trails. “There are a lot of different ways to do trail work,” he says, “and I like to get everybody’s input. That way it’s not just my project; it’s their project.” 

Photos by John Harch

Why does Harch spend so much time doing trail work when he could be out hiking or enjoying a good book? Harch ticks off a number of reasons: “It boosts tourism and helps create jobs. And encouraging people to get out and hike is good for their physical and mental well-being. I’m hoping it’ll help lure kids away from their smart phones and other devices. And it’s something that the whole family can do together.”

In a way, the Trail Association is a victim of its own success. With more and more trails being created, there are more miles that need maintenance, which means Harch’s volunteers are either going to have to rake and shovel faster, or there are going to have to be more volunteers. Along those lines, the Trail Association is thinking about eventually setting up an endowment fund to be able to pay someone to do the supervising job Harch does, and possibly even pay a few trail workers.

Photos by John Harch

But that won’t stop volunteers like David Tucker from getting out there with a rake and shovel. In his former life as a financial planner he was also a marathon runner, putting in a lot of miles on the trails near his home in San Jose. Now, he says, “instead of just being a consumer,” it’s time to give back, to pitch in to build and maintain trails in his new mountain home. •

Mount Shasta Trail Association 
Interested in volunteering?
Call John Harch at (530) 859-2454

About Tim Holt

Tim is a longtime journalist, the editor of the quarterly Northwest Review, and the author of “On Higher Ground,” a futuristic novel set in the Mount Shasta region. He lives in Dunsmuir, and is an avid cyclist and hiker.

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