Winter in Central Oregon is filled with adventures. For some, all that's needed is a place to park the car, unload the gear and head into the forest. However, most of us depend on trails, for the core of the experience or as a way to access the backcountry. And that's where volunteer groups come in.
If you've skied at Meissner and Wanoga, you've benefited from the hundreds of hours put in each year by volunteers at Meissner Nordic and DogPAC. If you've snowmobiled to Elk Lake and Moon Mountain, you've benefited from the thousands of hours put in by volunteers at Central Oregon Snowbusters and Sisters Sno-Go-Fers. All the winter trail grooming outside of Mt. Bachelor and Elk Lake Resort is done by these groups.
They also remove trees blown down by winter storms, clear and prepare trails each fall, and stock firewood at shelters. In these activities, they're joined by Central Oregon Nordic Club. Of course, the Central Oregon Trail Alliance and other groups do similar work on summer trails.
In the old days, trails were groomed by snowmobiles pulling box springs from old beds. Thankfully, things have progressed, and Central Oregon Snowbusters, Sisters Sno-Go-Fers, Meissner Nordic, and DogPAC all groom winter trails with sno-cats and other modern equipment. This equipment is purchased and maintained by donations, grants and other sources; no funds come from the Forest Service (federal tax dollars) or sno-park permits.
Most groomed ski trails involve mandatory trail fees. In Washington state, we'd be paying $80 per season to park at "Meissner equivalents" ($40 is a standard Washington sno-park fee plus a $40 special groomed trail permit). Central Oregon is lucky to have two groups, Meissner Nordic and DogPAC, committed to providing donation-based groomed ski trails.
These groups also make new infrastructure possible. Meissner Sno-Park recently expanded from 60 to 120 parking spaces (and eventually will reach 180 spaces). Meissner Nordic paid for Forest Service employees to do the environmental review, and Meissner Nordic volunteer hours were used as in-kind matches to attract funding for the infrastructure.
And it doesn't stop there. The Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project received over $600,000 in federal tax dollars last year to help restore forest health and wildlife habitat between Bend, Sisters and the Three Sisters Wilderness. The Deschutes National Forest needs to show matching dollars to obtain these funds, and a significant part of that match occurs in the form of hours put in by trail volunteers. So when you volunteer, and financially support these groups, you not only support great trails—you also create a healthier forest and enhance wildlife habitat.
Put simply, these groups enhance the quality of our lives, the quality of our visitor economy, and the quality of our natural resources. So, hug a winter trail volunteer. Better yet, become one. And please support these groups through your membership and donations.
Kreg Lindberg is a professor in the Tourism and Outdoor Leadership program at OSU Cascades. He's a current board member for DogPAC, a previous board member for Meissner Nordic (when it was Tumalo Langlauf Club), and a member of Central Oregon Nordic Club and Central Oregon Snowbusters.