26 Jul Inyo National Forest- Land of Vast Wilderness Trails, Towering Peaks, and Ancient Trees
Welcome to the Inyo National Forest, where I am lucky to work for my internship. The Inyo is home to Mt Whitney, the tallest Peak in the continental US, Methuselah, the oldest living non-clonal tree on Earth, and nine nationally designated Wilderness areas that span nearly 1,000,000 acres. It is a spectacular recreation area, with over 4 million visitors per year on the 1,200 miles of trail in the Forest- including sections of the John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail. With such heavy visitation and recreation, it is extremely important to keep trails in good working order to both allow safe access to visitors and to protect the delicate alpine ecosystems and thousands of cultural heritage sites from degradation due to erosion, sedimentation of alpine waterways, soil compaction, devegetation, etc. I am lucky to be a part of this effort, working cooperatively with Forest Service staff, volunteers, partner organizations, and corps crews to maintain the extensive trails system of the Inyo.
One part of maintaining trails is keeping them clear of fallen trees. Snow, wind, and other factors cause trees to fall across the trail- especially in the winter and spring. During the late spring and early summer, it is important to get out on the trails and clear these fallen trees, an operation known as a “logout”, to ensure that visitors can access the trail safely and without climbing, ducking, or finding alternative routes. This maintains a positive experience for visitors and encourages them to stay on the trail, confining impacts of visitors on foot and on horseback to the trail to protect the the health of the rest of the area. Within designated Wilderness, crosscut saws are used to cut and clear trees instead of chainsaws or other power tools. While crosscut saws are not gas-operated, they are light, efficient, and kept extremely sharp, which makes them preferable to carry on trails for long distances- and they can really rip through wood quickly! Depending on the saw, they can be used with two people (a “double buck” saw- shown in the photo below right) or one person (a “single buck” saw- shown in the video below left). It has been awesome to learn about and use this traditional tool that allows trail staff to keep trails clear and safe while being minimizing audible impact for wildlife and maintaining Wilderness character for the visitors who seek peace and solitude.
Other trail maintenance tasks aren’t quite as visible as a logout. The wilderness ranger crew on the Inyo National Forest takes care of their trails while on wilderness patrols by removing rocks and debris with a shovel everywhere they go and by clearing overgrown brush out of the trail corridor. Making sure that the trail is a nice place to walk is another way to protect the surrounding ecosystem by keeping visitors on the trail. I have accompanied the wilderness crew on a few patrols this summer, and these folks work extremely hard- imagine backpacking for 9 days straight with a full sized shovel, handsaw, and loppers on your pack in addition to everything else!
Learning about everything that goes into managing recreation has been an awesome experience so far. Stay tuned for more updates about my journey. Until then, happy trails!