Brad Withrow-Robinson, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension agent, Benton, Linn and Polk Counties.
I recently did a backpacking trip with my daughter, about a 12 year long summer tradition. This year we did a section of the Pacific Crest Trail starting at the California border, travelling “north” to Howard Prairie Reservoir. We actually travelled much farther east than north, ending up only about 10 miles north of California after 55 miles on the trail.
This was really the first time I spent much time in the Siskiyous. I have always heard great things about that landscape from friends and colleagues who have worked or played down there.
The landscape, geology and soils of that region are quite diverse and often quite different from other parts of the state. We spent time hiking through very interesting and diverse mixed conifer forests and meadows with many familiar as well as unfamiliar shrubs and flowers. We really enjoyed the chance to experience the Siskiyous for ourselves. On this dry year, we saw no snow and had pretty long stretches between water. But mosquitos were scarce.
Another rather unusual characteristic of this section of the PCT is the relatively large amount of private lands traversed. Much of the Oregon PCT travels through National Forest lands. In Southern Oregon we were in part of the checkerboard of BLM and private lands. It turns out that I know a few of those private family landowners who have long been encouraging us hike that section.
Jud Parsons met us at his gate at the end of our second day on the trail with a smile and jug of fresh water. He then gave us a tour of the family’s property near Mount Ashland. Jud has a great knowledge and deep connection to this land, most of which was purchased by his grandfather over a hundred years ago. We rumbled around in the old Chevy looking at a recent selective harvest, visiting some favorite trees, talking about history and a century of family ties to the land in southern Oregon. That history included the establishment of the ski road and also the PCT, of which the family hosts about two or three miles as it passes back and forth between their property and the BLM. Just a couple of weeks earlier, he had hiked his section of the trail with a chainsaw to clear the trail of a tangle of snags that came down in a winter storm. The trail is now part of that land and its stewardship.
I imagine some of you are beginning to feel sorry for me, or certainly my daughter, for interrupting a perfectly good wilderness experience for a busman’s holiday to a family forestland. Don’t be. Visiting a place, woodland or other, with somebody so familiar with and having such deep roots to a place has always been a cherished experience for me, and for my daughter too. We loved the visit with Jud on his property, and already look back at it as one of the highlights of the trip due to all the new dimensions it added.
The visit gave us a perspective that is inaccessible to most hikers on the PCT who often dash along the trail unaware of the ecological, social or historical context of the land they pass through. This is understandable since they have to rely on a sparse, landscape-impoverished guidebook, much to their loss. I am once again grateful for the chance to work with the landowner community, which affords me so many pleasures and benefits – including a jug of water and patch of cherished ground to camp on.