Pacific Crest Trail Association: the brains and brawn behind the PCT
Back in 1968, Congress passed the National Trails System Act and designated the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail as the first two national scenic trails.
The PCT Association’s Northern Sierra regional representative, Justin Kooyman, said the intent of Congress was to secure long-distance trails with superior scenery for users to enjoy.
The 2,650-mile PCT definitely fits that bill. The PCTA’s mission is to “protect, preserve and promote the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail as an internationally significant resource for the enjoyment of hikers and equestrians, and for the value that wild and scenic lands provide to all people.”
A private, nonprofit organization, the PCTA is a primary partner with the U.S. Forest Service in maintaining and managing the iconic trail of the West.
The PCTA has a memorandum of understanding with the Forest Service at a regional level that involves it with anything pertaining to the PCT trail-wide.
Kooyman’s domain is the 450 miles of trail that run from the northern border of Yosemite National Park up through Lassen National Forest. It encompasses seven national forests, one national park (Lassen Volcanic National Park) and one state park (McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park).
Volunteer maintenance program
Last year 90,000 hours of volunteer service were logged trail-wide, Kooyman said. About 9,000 of those hours took place in the Northern Sierra region.
Kooyman noted that there are two main types of volunteers involved with the PCTA. The first group is comprised of youth organizations such as AmeriCorps and the Student Conservation Association.
These organizations involve youths aged 25 or younger who receive training before participating in long-term trail work.
The second branch is comprised of local volunteers or “true volunteers,” Kooyman said. These folks are often skilled and experienced project leaders who head up trail projects. Others are people who just love the PCT and want to do their part to protect and preserve it.
The majority of projects lie within three realms: basic “tread work” — clearing drainages, raking, cutting brush and building water bars; “log out work” — removing timber obstructions from the trails with the aid of cross-cut saws and chainsaws; and “rock work” — constructing and reconstructing trail beds, retaining walls and steps using dry-lay masonry techniques.
Before volunteers hit the trails, they receive training on proper tool use and technique. Some jobs, such as crosscut and chainsaw work, necessitate technical training and certification.
Crosscut or two-person saws up to 7 feet long are used to cut out sections of trees that have fallen across the trail. Sometimes these trees are 48 inches in diameter.
Other volunteers scout trails and take notes on their condition, then report back to their regional rep, who can act accordingly.
Kooyman said a collaborative approach to managing the trail works best. The most typical project on the trail is one involving vegetation management, usually timber thinning.
Whenever a timber management project is conducted in the PCT corridor, the trail association works with the Forest Service on mitigation measures.
Managing for visual quality is a big part of what the PCTA advocates for. Practices such as cutting stumps flush to the ground, marking trees to be cut rather than those to be left standing, and minimizing trail crossings for heavy equipment are some of the association’s main objectives.
“The PCTA consults with the Forest Service on ways to implement projects in a way to protect the PCT and trail experience for hikers and equestrians,” Kooyman said.
The goal of trail management is to afford the user the highest integrity scenery possible, Kooyman added.
About half of the National Scenic PCT travels through designated wilderness areas. A primitive, remote, incredibly scenic experience is an important characteristic of the trail and one the PCTA aims to ensure.
Whereas the Appalachian Trail has a well-developed hut system, this is not a desired future for the PCT, Kooyman said.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in coming years is how to keep the primitive trail experience in the wake of increased trail use.
For more information on the PCTA, or to become a volunteer, visit pcta.org.