This weekend I witnessed a phenomenon that never ceases to amazing me. A group of people of all ages and backgrounds from many different states combined their efforts to create something that will be used many times in the years to come! It is indeed unbelievable what a group of motivated volunteers can accomplish!
The morning of July 9th, a number of dust-covered vehicles lined the side of Lightning Creek Road at mile marker 6, the trailhead for the Regal Creek Mine Trail. Mary Ann Hamilton, the Trails and Recreation Coordinator for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, welcomed everyone and gave a quick briefing on the project. Then everyone grabbed their weapon of choice (be it lopper, Sandvik, or Pulaski) and headed up the trail.
David Betts, a sawyer for the Forest Service, started cutting brush about a mile and half up the trail, while the rest of the gang followed behind, clearing brush that had already been cut and lopping the small trees and bushes in the path. Two of our volunteers tackled a special project; Dan Simmons and Jim Doudna literally moved the earth as they smoothed out an approach to the crossing of Regal Creek. They filled in a washed out drainage with rock and cut away the steep slope that preceded it, making a nice gentle grade towards the creek. The sound of boulder chucking could be heard for miles.
By the end of the day, the lopping/brush-throwing crew had made it to the last switchback and as a reward for everyone’s hard work we bushwhacked to the end of the trail (and the entrance to the mine).
After twenty minutes of pushing our way through vine maple and devils club, we reached cascading Regal Creek. A dark hole in the rock indicated the entrance to the mine. It was a beautiful and eerie sight, with the clear creek water tumbling down the rock right next to a entrance to the very heart of the earth. We wondered at the history of the mine and what had motivated folks to enter that tiny hole.
After refilling our water bottles with refreshingly cool creek water, we started back down the trail. We were rounding a bend when David, who was leading, stopped suddenly. He turned around and said “there’s a big black bear in front of us.” I looked up just in time to catch a glimpse of a big bear behind running away down the trail. When the rest of the group caught up with us, the conversation quickly turned to outrageous and funny stories of previous bear encounters. It was a great way to wrap up a satisfying day of volunteer work.
Sandy Compton and I spent Saturday night camping along Lightning Creek. I was reminded of the joys of spending a night in the outdoors. It’s a wonderful thing when you go to bed with the light of a dying fire and wake up with the sound of birds greeting the sun. After a breakfast of bacon and eggs (courtesy of Sandy) I felt refreshed and ready for another day of trail work.
I met our Sunday volunteers in Clark Fork and we navigated the potholes in Lightning Creek Road back to the trailhead where we once again met the FS trail crew. There were two sawyers this time, so Sandy and Rodd Gallaway followed them up the trail to throw brush behind them. The rest of us, including two members of the trail crew, Carly and Mikaila, continued to lop away at the small brush in the path (I specialized in pulling up little trees growing in the trail — preventative trail work!). We steadily made our way along the trail, listening to the buzz of chainsaws in the distance. It sounded a bit like two motorcycles racing.
We were fairly close to the end of the trail when we stopped for lunch. (I’m not sure why, but food always tastes better when you’re outside.) It was decided that after lunch to head to the mine entrance and work our way back. So we did, admiring new tread work that Rodd had done as we passed a section where the old trail had slid off the hill.
We reached the mine and once again wondered why someone would choose this apparently random place to build a mine. Our loppers and Sandviks reeked havoc on the devils club and vine maple growing in the path to the mine as we moved back down the trail. One of our volunteers, Denise, found it very satisfying to destroy devils club and she is solely responsible for about 2/3 of the devastation of the prickly plant.
When we reached the place where we had had lunch we realized that we had completed the project! Early! There is now a complete trail leading to the entrance of Regal Creek Mine! We threw our packs back over our shoulders and headed back down the newly reclaimed trail. Of course we had to reward ourselves for a fine day of work, so the Sunday volunteers went to Ivano’s del Lago for burgers and good company.
Thanks to all who worked on the Regal Creek Mine Trail Project! I personally enjoyed meeting and working with you all. It is an amazing thing to see folks who enjoy using the trails that the Forest Service manages give back with a little sweat and effort. I know that the Forest Service appreciated our help and we certainly enjoyed working with them!
If you were busy this past weekend or didn’t hear about our trail projects until now, don’t worry! You still have a chance to volunteer! We’ll be partnering with the Kootenai National Forest on two more trail projects. On July 23rd and 24th we’ll be working on Pillick Ridge near Bull River in Sanders County, Montana. And, on August 20th we’ll be clearing the Little Spar Creek Trail in Lincoln County, Montana.
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested or if you have any questions!