VetsWork: Ranging the Pacific Coast

by | VetsWork

Since February I’ve been working hand in hand with Kraig Lindelin, who is the trails and wilderness coordinator for the Central Coast Ranger District out of Waldport, OR. We’re rangers in the Siuslaw National Forest on Oregon’s Pacific coast, covering 126 miles of trails from Coos Bay to Waldport. Our station is pretty much halfway between the district office and the recreation department in Reedsport, OR. There’s a small shop with two large garages packed with equipment, a covered port for parts and lumber, and a bunkhouse where I get to live. It’s not too shabby, given the U.S. Forest Service’s budget and my sponsors, who are non-profit. On which note, I’d like to give thanks to the folks running the Mt. Adams Institute and the VetsWork program. Also, thank you AmeriCorps for making it all possible.

On the surface there’s not much to see regarding trail maintenance. It’s safe to say that most of the work involved is cutting brush, felling trees, and fixing fences, among a few other tasks that come and go. But it’s good to note that there’s a constant game of cat-and-mouse going on with visitors and volunteers who come from all sorts of places and backgrounds, because Kraig handles a constant influx of information regarding much needed work on the vastly dispersed trail systems. More often than not there are complaints of trees that have fallen on trails that need to be sawed and moved out of the way. Other times we’re dealing with long term projects involving the removal of hazard trees that could potentially harm visitors, or working on fences and retaining walls to keep trails from collapsing altogether, all of which takes a fair amount of prepping and planning. But like everything else, there’s more than meets the eye to the hands on experience.

If you’ve ever been backpacking, or hiked for at least 8 miles recreationally, you’ll get an idea of what it feels like for us at the end of a good day on the job. Add a hefty 25lb chainsaw and safety gear like leg chaps, helmet, goggles, and spare fuel, oil, sharpening tools, extra chain, hand-saw, water and lunch, and you’ve got yourself a mighty hike in. For the average non-outdoorsy corporate-Joe this might seem like alot, but it could be worse. Besides, most of the trail systems in the Siuslaw National Forest don’t amount to more than 7 or 8 miles and we don’t usually have to hike out more than two miles with all that equipment. With that said however, sometimes we haul out asphalt strips for bridge tread too. Asphalt apparently weighs somewhere around 145 lbs per cubic foot. Nonetheless, hiking for a job is nothing to complain about if you take care of yourself. We take as many breaks and as much time as we need to stay sane and healthy, because that’s what it takes to do this work safely. So all in all, we do have time to enjoy our surroundings. Which of course is never really enough time.

From learning to fell a tree without getting crushed to hiking miles of trail loops while cutting back ferns, the grandeur of forests and variety of microclimates in this area provide a lot of different scenery. The terrain and environments shift greatly depending on which direction you travel, north or south along the coastline or east inland where the hills rise and fall sharply. Whenever there’s a chance to look further than your next step, more often than not you’ve entered a completely different type of forest along a single trail. You could be surrounded by shrubby lodgepole pines and big huckleberry bushes, or walking suddenly along a steep valley towered by huge douglas firs and sitka spruce. Needless to say, the wet climate here serves them all well enough. In a single day during the winter we’ve experienced rain, sleet, hail, and snow. It’s a good thing I’m a winter person. On that note, I’m looking forward to summer.

Though my job is to support maintenance operations for trails and trailheads that lie up and down Oregon’s Pacific coast, the experience that comes with the job is far more complex than a short blog could demonstrate. Being a trails and wilderness intern for the U.S. Forest Service has given me a plethora of opportunities to learn about the intricacies of working for a locally run, federally funded agency, but the takeaway for me at this point is that every job done well is a step in the right direction. Whether it’s keeping a rotten alder from crushing campers or just reminding the public that we’re here to protect resources for future generations, we’re keeping trail systems intact and operational for the greater good. I get some satisfaction in consciously keeping these areas wild and safe from unbounded visitors, while keeping visitors safe from themselves.