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Fire and Rain – 2022 Tread School

November 16, 2022

A photo of people in hard hats using straps to carry a burned log through a burned forest. Over this image are the words Tread School - Fire Recovery Edition

Rebuilding trails from the ashes.

By Natalie Ferraro

With over an inch of rain pouring down from cloudy skies for the weekend, it was hard to believe that the forest that volunteers worked and trained in during Tread School 2022 had been the victim of dry weather, extreme winds and raging fires only two years earlier. A group of Trailkeeper volunteers were undaunted by the ‘atmospheric river’ and showed up at Camp Talaoli anyway. These hardy folks were here to learn the skills needed to repair hiking trails after wildfires, and to start  rebuilding trails damaged by the Beachie Creek Fire.

We asked some of them to share their experiences with you! 

In front of a stand of burned trees and green under growth, a person in a blue rain jacket, black pants and a green hard hat smiles at the camera.

The rain came down most of the weekend, but our volunteers were all smiles!

Why did you sign up for Tread School?

Sarah [TKO Volunteer]When I signed up for Tread School, I had already participated in a few trail parties. Other volunteers and crew leaders had told me how much fun Tread School was for them and that I should sign up for it. I love looking for new learning opportunities and everyone involved in TKO from crew leaders to volunteers are all so welcoming. So signing up for Tread School was an easy decision. 

Autumn [First time volunteer] – I had been wanting to join up with TKO for about a year and a half but wasn’t sure how to do that during the height of the pandemic…I saw a post about the Tread School (not far in advance) and was so excited!

Auggie [Opal Creek Ancient Forest Facilities Director] – I signed up for Tread School recommended by a good friend who has loved the work he has done with TKO and to get connected to this active community. 

Ingrid [TKO Assistant Crew Leader] – I wanted to learn more about trail work in burn areas. Oregon has had many terrible fires where trails need to be restored. It will take lots of work. I also wanted to see the Santiam River area. I don’t go to that area often. 

A person in a red hard hat leans down to look into the burned out hollow inside of a fallen tree.

Impressive displays of the the fire’s destruction, many burned out trees had to be felled prior to the TKO’s work on the trails.

Tread School is a full weekend of volunteer training. The goal is to give folks a basic set of skills that they need to be effective at trail stewardship. Unfortunately, we have seen many hundreds of miles of hiking trails lost to fire in recent years. Due to this growing need for fire-recovery skills, the 2022 Tread School was dedicated entirely to fire recovery training.

Day one started out with a camp-style breakfast (thanks Camp Talaoli!) followed by a few hours of classroom learning. Volunteers learned the basics of working safely in areas damaged by fire, and the different stages of recovery that a trail goes through as it is repaired. After lunch, the crews headed out to put their skills to use in the field. Flagging routes, surveying fire impacts, and LOTS of brushing, the volunteer crews put in a lot of learning time at Fisherman’s Bend, a BLM site that had been completely wiped out during the fire. 

a group of people in hard hats stand behind a large falled tree and point at the ground, indicating where a hikingtrail used to be.

This group of volunteers was tasked with finding and flagging an old trail that had been wiped out and hidden by growing brush and fallen trees. They discovered the original trail went where this tree had fallen!

After the field sessions, the volunteers returned to camp to dry out and enjoy a warm meal. TKO staff and Crew Leaders also hosted a Tool Maintenance workshop, teaching participants the vital skill of taking care of their trail tools.

Sarah – Second day we did quite a bit of learning in the morning. Then we had a productive and wet day on the trail at Fishermen’s Bend finding the [burned] trail. There was a great tool care and chainsaw demonstration that afternoon around the fire pit… Something that surprised me was how dangerous fire affected forests can be even long after they have begun the recovery process of regrowing. I have found a new appreciation for the forest and the amount of time it will take before we are able to fully enjoy them again.  

IngridThe meals were delicious! I learned some new skills. It was very cool and rainy all weekend, so sitting by the warm fire in the evening was especially nice. 

A group of people stand around a bonfire, watching and listening to one person who is talking and holding a Pulaksi

Crew Leader Curtis teaches the Tread School participants the basics of trail tool sharpening and maintenance.

The second day of Tread School focused entirely on learning in the field. Participants went out into the Santiam State Forest to work on prepping the trails for eventual reopening. This meant that drainage issues needed to be assessed and addressed, brush was trimmed back, and broken portions of tread were rebuilt to withstand future traffic.

After a great weekend of learning and camaraderie, these volunteers were all set to help rebuild fire affected trails far and wide. Participants are now equipped to participate in TKO trail parties on the Clackamas River trail, trails in the Santiam corridor, and even trails the Columbia Gorge still closed after the 2017 Eagle Creek fire. Some attendees, like Auggie, came from organizations that have their own fire recovery challenges to overcome, which the skills they learned at Tread School will help them take on.

A group of people in rain jackets and hard hats stand on a hiking trail in the woods, pointing at a waterfall behind them and through the trees

This crew of Tread School participants learned how to repair tread, manage drainage issues and found a pretty little waterfall!

What was your favorite part of Tread School?

Autumn – My favorite part of Tread School was the camaraderie and hard work. I was surprised at how nice and welcoming people were. This was such a great experience and I’m hooked!

Auggie – As the fires have connected us all through massive loss, TKO is recognizing the opportunity to engage in restoration, together, in a professional and safe manner, and that is what I found during my experience at Tread School. My hope, as the Facility Director with Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center, is to bring our supporters together and reach more of Oregon’s areas in need of restoration.  

Sarah – My favorite part was learning quite a bit about TKO’s history as an organization. Just a really neat and caring group of like minded individuals which makes me eager to get more involved with TKO. I learned so much about fire affected forests. Really appreciate the opportunity to learn about and help the forests we all love and enjoy. Plus everyone was such great company on the trail and back at camp. I had great conversations with lots of interesting people.

A variety of long handled hand tools are laid out under a picnic shelter. A person in hard hat demonstrates how to use one of the tools to a gather group

At Tread School, participants learn what tools are needed to the job, and how to use them safely.

Sarah – Thanks again TKO! I had such a great time and really learned so much. If you have ever been interested in trail work, sign up for a trail party. They also welcome donations if trail work is not for you.

This training was only possible thanks to our friends and partners at the Bureau of Land Management, the Oregon Department of Forestry, Camp Taloali, Opal Creek Ancient Forest, and many more. Special shout out to 10 Barrel Brewing for providing the volunteers with celebratory beers!

Like Sarah said, we also need donations in addition to volunteers to get this work done! This week (11/14-11/20) when you give a gift to TKO you are not only helping to bring trails back from fire, but you’ll also be entered to win some sweet prizes from our friends at Next Adventure. Click here to learn more!

A close up photo of the faces of two people in rain gear and hard hats with muddy cheeks smiling at the camera

Muddy work is fun work!

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