Katy Nesbitt
The La Grande Observer

The meeting

The April 26 meeting at 6:30 p.m. at Toma’s Conference Room, 309 South River St. in Enterprise is open to encourage trail users to become members and volunteers. The association’s first official board meeting will elect directors and discuss this summer’s projects. Volunteers with skills ranging from using trail clearing tools to web design are sought to help administer the association and coordinate maintenance projects with Forest Service personnel.

Annual memberships are $10 for students, $20 for adults and $30 for families. For more information on becoming a member, volunteering or about the public meeting, email info@wmhcta.org .

ENTERPRISE — Years of diminishing federal budgets have left many national forest trails under-maintained or impassable. But a group of trail enthusiasts are working with the U.S. Forest Service to keep trails open.

The newly formed Wallowa Mountains Hells Canyon Trail Association will host a public meeting April 26 at Toma’s Conference Room in Enterprise to add members and volunteers to its roster.

The association, along with Eastern Oregon University and Wallowa Resources, is forming a charter ranger district designed to help the Forest Service meet its mission, Rick Bombaci of Wallowa Resources said.

The trail association, Bombaci said, would like to help the Forest Service tackle the backlog of maintenance on approximately 1,184 miles of summer and wilderness trails, as well as the historic ranch homes, barns and cabins on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

“This is a boots-on-the-ground organization that came together to improve trails and facilities on public lands,” Bombaci said.

Jim and Holly Akenson are avid backcountry packers who have been with the group since its inception. Jim Akenson said for many years they used their horses and mules to access the Minam River Canyon — that’s not a good option now.

“On recent trips in the wilderness we’ve encountered many logs across trails and overgrown vegetation, even on primary access trails,” Akenson said. “It is just a more difficult trip these days, compared to backcountry travel two decades ago.”

A year after a group of trail users began meeting, the Wallowa Mountain Hells Canyon Trail Association registered as a nonprofit with the state, Bombaci said. An application has been filed to achieve 501(c)(3) nonprofit status from the IRS in hopes of attracting funding for maintenance projects.

While the association’s paperwork is being processed, members of the planning group worked closely with the staff of the U.S. Forest Service’s Wallowa Mountains Office to clear the Lower Imnaha River Trail of brush and rock over the course of two long days in early March and April.

Nine volunteers showed up for the first venture and 15 on the second to work with three Forest Service employees. Bombaci said there are only a few yards left, but those yards, like much of the trail already cleared, are severely overgrown with Himalayan blackberries. The association plans to finish the project on April 22 — new members are encouraged to join.

Mike Eng, of Lostine, is helping launch the organization and was a volunteer on the Lower Imnaha Trail clearing project.

“We’ve already had over 150 hours of volunteer trail clearing to date,” Eng said.

Besides the obvious need for trail and facility maintenance, Bombaci said, another part of the impetus for the association is the strong history of successful collaborative “can-do” projects undertaken by all sorts of formal and informal, private and public, ad hoc and ongoing, likely and unlikely partnerships and organizations in Wallowa County.

“We have a tradition to uphold,” Bombaci said.

For the complete story, see the April 17 edition of The Observer.