Max Denning

In just its second year, the Wallowa Mountains Hells Canyon Trails Association has grown exponentially to almost 60 active members, but that hasn’t stopped the organization from continuing to recruit new members.

Today, the trails association based in Wallowa County will host an open house at 6:30 p.m. in the Lewis Auditorium at Zabel Hall on the Eastern Oregon University campus. At the open house, the association hopes to entice members of the La Grande community to join their group.

The WMHCTA works on making sure there’s access to the Eagle Cap wilderness and Hells Canyon trails by going on excursions on the trails and moving logs and other debris. In 2018, according to Jim Akenson, chairman of the WMHCTA’s board of directors, the group cleared more than 80 miles of trails and moved approximately 850 logs. That’s an increase from 2017, when members cleared approximately 27-1/2 miles of trails. To complete trail clearing, the WMCHTA works with a hired trails coordinator and the Forest Service, which directs them to where work needs to be done.

“We cover areas pretty thoroughly and communicate what needs to be done where,” Akenson said.

But, that doesn’t mean the organization has run out of projects.

“We always seem to have more projects we could be working on than we have people,” he said. “That’s why we’re looking for additional membership.”

Akenson said he is hoping to reach out to communities outside of Wallowa County, such as in La Grande, Baker City and Union. He said currently most of the organization’s members are from Wallowa County.

“The La Grande area has a huge amount of potential, because there are a lot of people in that community who recreate where we do the trail work,” Akenson said.

The organization formed in 2016 because of worries about the lack of access to Wallowa Mountains wilderness areas.

“We got together a group of volunteers, who represented different entities in our community, that had concerns about the increasing lack of access to the Hells Canyon and Eagle Cap Wilderness and the adjacent recreational areas,” Akenson said.

The WMHCTA is a part of the Eagle Cap partnership, which also includes Eastern Oregon University. This gives them access to more resources in Wallowa County and also allows them to host events on EOU’s campus. While the event will be open to all community members, Akenson said the organization would like to recruit some more young people.

See more in Monday's edition of The Observer.

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