Volunteers Flock To Forest, Ridge Trail Getting Real
Kevin L. Hoover
CITY HALL/COMMUNITY FOREST – Arcata forest fans have long looked with envy at the Friends of the Arcata Marsh, a dynamic organization that protects and nurtures Arcata’s other world-renowned environmental jewel.
There have been attempts to establish a comparable Friends of the Arcata Forest organization at times, but the concept never caught on. Now, though, the well-established Humboldt Trail Council (HTC) has taken the Arcata Community Forest (ACF) under their wing.
Thursday night, the organization held a meeting at City Hall to sign up potential volunteers, brief them on their duties and plan the first work day.
The meeting was well attended, with more than 30 attendees from college age to retired filling City Council Chamber.
The HTC’s Kevin Wright offered background on the organization. It was founded in 2010 to empower and give direction to trail users who want to tackle issues, but don’t know with whom to coordinate. After working out paperwork and insurance issues, HTC organized Volunteer Trail Stewards (VTS) got to work.
It started with workdays on the Hammond Trail. “We actually had great turnout from day one,”Wright said.
The volunteer workdays provide a much-needed service that government finds increasingly difficult to handle. High-cost trail maintenance is hard to justify in budgets, and is a hurdle to creation of new trails.
“The Volunteer Trail Stewards really wanted to step up and help defray some of these costs, and make places like Arcata feel better about building new trails,” Wright said.
HTC’s Rees Hughes said trail maintenance is costly. Humboldt County spends $40,000 to $60,000 annually to maintain its trails, employing just three people for an area half the size of Connecticut.
The stewards work with cities and the county to identify problems and respond quickly to trail needs. Along with the Hammond Trail, the stewards have helped maintain and improve McKinleyville Land Trust bluffs, and the Coastal Nature Center in Manila.
The monthly trail maintenance events include cleaning, brushing, erosion control, installation of fencing and benches and graffiti abatement. And in the case of the Ridge Trail, building the trail itself.
Apart from the volunteer workdays, the stewards serve as eyes and ears on the ground, observing and reporting problems and issues.
“We’ve attracted a very diverse group of volunteers,” Wright said. “All different age groups and backgrounds.”
More than 200 volunteers have been trained, with solid results in trail safety and comfort level, allowing increased use and enjoyment.
Deputy Director of Environmental Services Karen Diemer said the City had been working on organizing forest volunteers for several years. But with a small staff, the City was nervous about starting something it couldn’t follow through with. “We’re extremely grateful the Trail Stewards have stepped forward with support,” she said.
Stacy Becker said stewards play dual roles – as part of the team on monthly workdays, and out on their own. The stewards may identify themselves with a badge or vest, file online reports about trail conditions and perform light litter pickup.
But, Becker cautioned, “Trail stewards are not police.” If criminal activity is observed, volunteers are to make a report. Another no-no: picking up hazardous materials.
Environmental issues in Arcata forests should be reported to Environmental Services at (707) 822-8184.
“You guys are a force multiplier for us,” said Park Ranger Richard Bergstresser. Volunteers might encounter medical emergencies. Rangers have extricated several people lost or stuck in the woods. Common misbehavior includes illegal camping, fires and loose dogs – and that’s for a ranger to address, not volunteers.
“I would hate for anybody here to get into a confrontation with anyone and it could be the smallest things,” he said. The most frequent source of strife is the dogs.
“You’d be surprised how quickly people will flip on you,” Bergestresser said. “People treat their dogs better than their kids.”
He said he gets “a lot of great tips about the marsh and forest. He urged those calling in reports to APD at (707) 822-2428 to be specific. “If you say the tree near the rock near the thing, we can’t help you,” he said. Also, be sure and leave a callback number.
“We like good news, too,” Hughes said. “It’s sort of nice to hear that ‘we went out and everything is good.’”
Hughes emphasized the importance of remaining within the VTS scope of responsibilities.” We reserve the right to unvolunteer you as a trail steward,” he said. “We’ve never had to do that. If you try to be Deputy Dawg out there and a marshal, that could make problems for us.”
VTS vests are $30. Volunteers who distinguish themselves on an enduring basis may be awarded one at no cost.