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John Catts, WSER and Tevis Trail Manager

In September of 2022 the Mosquito Fire burned 16 miles of the Western States Trail. Some areas burned extremely hot and in these areas there was very little organic matter left on the ground. Other areas did not burn as hot or burned in a mosaic pattern with some areas minimally affected. 

Before the fire was fully out, and continuing until early snow prevented further access, our partners with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Auburn State Recreation Area (ASRA), as well as CalFire, traversed the affected stretches of the Western States Trail and felled hazard trees. After the hazard trees were felled and bucked (cut into smaller sections and removed from the trail), our attention turned to erosion control and tread repair.  With little to no organic matter left in the upper soil horizon erosion occurs at a much faster rate, particularly when large rainfall events (like this winter) occur. As a result the main drainages and many previously insignificant drainages carried large amounts of water, rock, and soil downhill onto the trail, and in some locations erosion in some drainages undermined the trail.

In spite of weather-related constraints, we have made significant progress repairing damages caused by both the Mosquito Fire and once in a decade storms. Below is a summary of progress made to the trail on lands managed by ASRA and the USFS, as well as a description of a more complicated type of project (tread armoring), performed for several drainages in Eldorado Canyon (USFS).

Auburn State Recreation Area

ASRA has a sizable and qualified trail team that maintains its trails. Before the fire ASRA was committed to spending time and effort to re-bench the California Street Section of the Western States Trail this year.  To assist in this effort ASRA enlisted the services of the California Conservation Corps (CCC, Auburn office). Re-benching, using a trail machine (and by hand where trail machine access is not possible), involves removal of adjacent vegetation, and re-contouring the trail tread by removing sluff from the uphill side, removing any outboard berm, and creating a wide trail tread that has a 5% outboard slope, so water will sheet flow onto and off the trail and not down the trail. This allows us to shift the footprint of the trail created by years of use to the middle of the bench, which is much safer for animals and people. ASRA started this process with the CCC Crew and have been moving from Rucky Chucky towards Ford Bar, have taken a break due to weather, but will be back working eastward on May 3rd.

Meanwhile, on the 3.5 miles of the Western States Trail that burned in the Mosquito Fire (Dardanelles Creek to Patent Road Fire Break), our Trail Team spent the past 2 weekends repairing fire and storm damage. We cut what little vegetation remained within the trail corridor, removed eroded soil and rock from the trail tread, and to the extent possible with hand tools re-benched the trail. We also added erosion control features (waterbars) and repaired a few drainages. Photo #A is a completed stretch of trail, and Photo #B shows installation of a waterbar. Although the 3.5 miles of trail in ASRA that was burned in the Mosquito Fire is clear from obstructions and offers safe passage, there are still a few projects we need to complete, and the trail is still closed between Patent Road Fire Break and Dardanelles Creek.

Photo #A a completed stretch of trail
Photo #B installation of a waterbar

Tahoe National Forest, American River Ranger District

As containment of the Mosquito Fire reached 100% the USFS was busy felling hazard trees in Eldorado Canyon and along Deadwood Ridge, which in most places burned very hot. The American River Ranger District Trail Team relied on federal Burned Area Emergency Restoration (BAER) funds to continue working in Eldorado Canyon through the fall and winter as weather permitted.  Significant progress had been made restoring the trail in Eldorado Canyon.  Activities include installation of erosional controls (mostly water bars), removal of eroded soil and rock from the trail, removal of large stumps from the trail corridor from hazard tree felling or other fallen trees, repair of historic retaining walls, and repair of the trail at drainages.

With funding from WSER & Tevis, a trail team from Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS) joined the USFS Trail Team to help with this effort. SBTS spent much of February in Eldorado Canyon, left when the weather was unsuitable, but will be back in late March or early April. The WSER & Tevis Trail Team, provided assistance on volunteer days in December 2022 and January 2023, and plan to get back into Eldorado Canyon in April.  As the snow melts and access via Deadwood Road is available SBTS and our volunteer team will move east to Deadwood Ridge, and down to Swinging Bridge (the eastern extent of the burn on the Western States Trail). From there it’s business as usual to clear the remainder of the trail prior to our events (OK, there might be a bit more work this year with the deep snowpack).

Come join us on volunteer work days in April, May (to be posted soon) and June (https://www.wser.org/volunteering/trail-stewardship/).

A reminder that the Western States Trail from Michigan Bluff to Last Chance is still closed, as is Mosquito Ridge Road.

Tread Armoring Project

Many of the techniques we used to control erosion are visible to the trail user (log water bars, rock water bars, waddle, swales), but some methods used to control erosion and restore the trail tread are not immediately obvious to the trail user. Therefore, we thought it would be informative to describe, and show through photographs, a more complicated and labor-intensive type of trail project, tread armoring.

In drainages where erosion has caused the trail tread to be narrowed and weakened the potential repairs include construction of retaining walls or tread armoring. In Eldorado Canyon re-routing a trail is not an option, because side slopes are often extremely steep, and the historical designation of the trail prevents re-routing without extensive studies and analysis. On the east side of Eldorado Canyon several of the badly eroded drainages had ample large rock available, and tread armoring was the preferred restoration technique.

Photo #1 drainage before

Photo #1 shows the condition of a drainage before the project was started. Note the quantity of rock that had been transported down the barren slope.

Photo #2 drainage after removal of debris

Photo #2 depicts the same drainage, from the opposite side, following removal of debris from the trail tread. Note the deeply incised drainage above & below the trail and narrowed and unstable trail tread.

The next steps in the repair are to quarry suitable rock and excavate the trail tread to provide a stable base on which quarried rock will be placed. Large rocks of uniform thickness with flat surfaces are located and are transported to the site using rock slings, or if the rock is above or below the repair site lowered by hand or a grip hoist with a sling and moved with rock bars (Photo #3) or lifted up onto the trail with a grip hoist and rock bars.

Photo #3 griphoist

Photo #4 shows the excavation of the trail tread to create a stable base for the placement of quarried rock. Since the downhill edge of the trail tread in the drainage was eroded and undermined, we excavated into the uphill side of the drainage, creating a gentle curve to the trail alignment, to make adequate room for the required tread width.

Photo #4 excavation of the trail tread

Finding the best large rock, to be placed on the outboard side in the middle of the drainage, is key (Photo #5).  Within the trail teams there are often calls for “get a bigger rock”. When set, this stone needs to be stable or the underlying soil needs to be further removed to be stable, without the use of shims (so it stays stable over time). Other rocks will be placed carefully next to this keystone to lock into this main rock and each needs to be adjusted to be stable by turning, flipping, or selectively removing soil beneath it until it is stable.  Photo #6 shows the final placement of these large rocks at this specific site.  It also shows that to create long lasting stability and prevent erosion, the space between all these rocks was filled with crush (smaller pieces of rock created by breaking up shaley rock with a small sledge hammer).

Photo #5 outboard rock placement
Photo #6 filling with crush

When all the interstitial space between rocks has been filled with crush, soil can be placed on top. For longevity and safety its best to either place large rock on the outboard edge to keep users off the outboard edge, and if possible outboard barrier rock can be set deeply into the outboard edge of the tread. Photo #7 shows the armoring repair nearing completion.

Photo #7 armoring nearing completion

With the trail armored where a drainage crosses, any new material eroded onto the trail is easily removed.

So the next time you see a stretch of trail that looks like this, know there is a solid base beneath your feet (or your horses feet or wheels) and that a lot of work went into it.

Mosquito Fire Assessment

On September 6, 2022, the Mosquito fire started at Oxbow Dam. The fire quickly spread uphill towards Michigan Bluff and Foresthill. As of today the fire is 95% contained and has burned over 76,000 acres. 78 structures were destroyed, many in the Michigan Bluff area.

Regarding the Western States Trail the easternmost extent affected by the fire is near Swinging Bridge (mile ~46 on the course) and the westernmost extent affected is the Patent Road Fire Break (5.7 miles west of Foresthill, or mile ~68 on course). While this is a total of about 22 miles of trail, the trail through Volcano Canyon and Foresthill was not inside the burn perimeter, and therefore only about 16 miles of the trail were directly impacted by the fire.

With respect to post-fire restoration we will be working with three land agencies/owners: US Forest Service (USFS) from Swinging Bridge to Bath Rd, a private land owner from Foresthill to just before Cal-1, and Auburn State Recreation Area (ASRA) for the westernmost 3 miles to the Patent Road Fire Break.

Mosquito fire with WS Trail – WSER

Good news:

  • The Last Chance Townsite and aid station location was not burned
  • Pacific Slab Bridge was not affected
  • The Swinging Bridge was unburned
  • The Deadwood Pump is fully operational
  • The El Dorado Creek bridge was unburned
  • Michigan Bluff homes where the aid station is survived

Some parts of the trail where the fire burned hot show much more damage to the vegetation while other parts show much less or little damage. In areas that burned hot, the vegetation holding soil in place was removed and as a result the soil will erode more quickly and undermine the stability root systems for trees causing them to fall.  Areas where the fire did not burn as hot will be less prone to these negative effects, but will still experience significant soil erosion, tree mortality, and hazard trees. Mitigation of hazard trees and soil erosion that will occur when the winter rains start falling are the two big priorities. 

Soil Burn Severity Map – USFS

Damage repair from fire suppression activities has already begun (wide fire breaks are being either fully or if needed in the future partially restored, and water diversion features created). In addition some emergency stabilization activities (e.g., felling of hazard trees) has already begun. Emergency stabilization and long-term recovery and rehabilitation efforts will continue through the winter and spring, and may continue for up to 5 years.  With respect to federal lands a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Team has already been assembled, is performing a rapid assessment to determine the scope of the Emergency Stabilization that is required, estimate costs required to perform this work, and apply for BAER Funding. Additional funding for Long-Term  Recovery and Burned Area Rehabilitation (BAR) may be available to assist in long-term recovery efforts. With regard to the State of California the Governors Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) has been engaged, and provides a range of State Recovery Resources. In addition Placer County will help private land owners with removal of debris and hazardous materials, and removal of hazard trees.

This is not the first fire to impact the WS trail. The most recent fires were the Star Fire of 2001 and the American Fire of 2013.

The Western States Trail Foundation, Western States Endurance Run Foundation, and The Canyons Endurance Runs will be working with the agencies and owners to get the trail ready for our events in 2023. Trail work days are still TBD. We will share the info when it is created.

Tahoe National Forest, American River Ranger District lands are closed to the public until December 31, 2022, so there is no recreational trail access. ASRA has closed the fire affected area, from the Patent Road Fire Break east to Foresthill, until further notice.

For more info on the fire see: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/8398/

El Dorado Creek Bridge – USFS

Michigan Bluff side of El Dorado Canyon – Carol Hewitt

Top of Cal St – WSER

View of Wortons Market from Cal St – WSER

Hot burn on Cal St

Cal-1 Aid Station – WSER

Dardanelles Fire Break – WSER

Trail near western edge of fire – WSER

Granite Chief Wilderness Trail Reroute

Last updated: March 7, 2024 at 18:01 pm

Granite Chief Wilderness Trail Reroute Project Receives $800,000 Award Through Great American Outdoors Act.

2024 Volunteer Opportunities

The Western States Endurance Run (WSER) is pleased to announce that the U.S. Forest Service – American River Ranger District (USFS) has secured $800,000 in funding for the Granite Chief Wilderness Trail Reroute Project (Project) through the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA).  The USFS, the Western States Endurance Run Foundation (organizers of the WSER), and the Western States Trail Foundation (organizers of the Tevis Cup Ride), worked together over several years to develop and gain approval of a plan for non-motorized alternative trail access through Granite Chief Wilderness (the Wilderness). Planning activities culminated in a 2019 Decision Memo, issued by the USFS, that formalized the decision to proceed with the Project.

The trail through the Wilderness that WSER uses on race day stretches from approximately miles 4 through 10.5 of the WSER course. Although the western portion of the trail through the newly expanded Wilderness has been recently rehabilitated and meets current USFS trail building specifications, other portions of the existing trail through the Wilderness were developed long before modern trail building criteria and techniques were defined, while other portions of the trail were created by citizens (social trails) that are not within the formally recognized trail network. The existing trail alignment is problematic with regard to both user safety and resource damage. In places the trail is overly steep with grades up to 30%, and over time have become heavily rutted and channelized, contributing to excessive erosion in sensitive sub-alpine riparian terrain. For decades volunteers from WSER and the Tevis Cup Ride have partnered with the USFS to maintain the trail through the Wilderness, but because of its design, or lack of design, it has required an increasing level of commitment. 

The Project is designed to close sections of the existing trail that have unsustainable grades that traverse a series of hillside springs (bogs) and replace these trail sections with sustainable trail segments that will be farther upslope and out of the densely vegetated area where the springs discharge. The Project has been divided into nine trail segments (see figure), and will result in 5.7 miles of new trail, along the ridge connecting Granite Chief, Needle and Lyon Peaks. New trail segments will access alpine terrain that has not previously been accessible, which will afford stunning views to the south, east, and west. When completed the new trail system will allow recreational users the opportunity to walk, run, or ride shorter loop routes from both the east and northwest side of the Wilderness. New trail segments will be designed using Best Management Practices to minimize erosion and be safer for all users. Unsustainable sections of the existing trail will be closed and vegetation in the affected area restored.

On a typical year the project area is covered by snow from October to June, and therefore field work can only be performed during summer months. The Project has been scheduled for the summers of 2023, 2024, and 2025. A 20-person professional trail crew will live in the Wilderness and work 5 days each week, for a total of 14 weeks. On weekends volunteer trail crews will perform work commensurate with their skill level. For the summers of 2023 and 2024 access will be arranged with the Palisades Tahoe Resort, and trail workers will use Palisades Tahoe maintenance roads to bring supplies and personnel into the Wilderness from the east. For the summer of 2025 access will be from the northwest edge of the Wilderness using Forest Service Road 51.

Craig Thornley, Race Director for WSER, states: “I have been very excited about this new trail since I first walked it a few years ago. It will not only provide a more environmentally sensitive and sustainable way to traverse the Wilderness and substantially improve the views, but because the new route across the Wilderness will be shorter it will allow us to make other changes farther down our event route to incorporate more single-track and sustainable trail sections.”

Chuck Stalley, the Ride Director for the Tevis Cup also supports the project, as “it will provide safer passage for our horses and their riders and require less annual maintenance.” 

Matt Brownlee, the USFS District Trails Manager, is fully committed to the Project “This exciting new trail realignment project will require three years of hard work but will provide years of public enjoyment while at the same time protecting sensitive resources in federally protected wilderness. This project was originally identified in 1993 due to accelerated erosion and lack of trail design parameters but didn’t gain traction until 2016 when myself/WSER/WSTF representatives began initial ground-truthing. Obvious terrain and construction hurdles will make this a logistically challenging project but will benefit the American public for years to come. A mentor of mine used to say “just go out there and make it better”, I truly feel that’s what we are going to accomplish with this legacy project and I welcome any and all who would like to be part of it.”

The USFS has estimated the Project will cost $1,350,000. GAOA funding will cover $800,000 of the cost and WSER has secured funding for its share of the remaining $550,000 in cost.

WSER/WSTF Volunteer Steward Program Announcement

The Western States Endurance Run Foundation (WSERF, organizer of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run) and Western States Trail Foundation (WSTF, organizer of the Tevis Cup), in partnership with the American River Ranger District and Truckee Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Auburn State Recreation Area (ASRA), wish to announce the creation and implementation of a new model to maintain and improve the trail(s) used by both events.  The new Volunteer Steward Program, modeled after successful approaches used to maintain the Pacific Crest Trail and Tahoe Rim Trail, will rely on relatively small well-trained and highly committed groups of volunteers to maintain and improve the Western States and Tevis Trail system.

Although the courses for the Western States Endurance Run and the Tevis Cup vary in certain areas, they share the same trail over the majority of their 100 mile reach.  Both organizations have a long history with respect to use of the trail system, and have individually and in partnership built and maintained much of the trail that exists today.  Therefore it makes sense to draw from the resources of both organizations to create a focused and efficient system for trail maintenance and improvement.

This new system of trail management will be lead by John Catts (WSER finisher and volunteer, and equestrian), with support from Nicole Wertz (Tevis Trail Manager).  To facilitate trail management, the Western States trail system has been segregated into eight Trail Sections.  Each Trail Section has a designated Trail Section Lead, and these Section Leads are currently in the process of assembling their respective Trail Section Teams.  With a defined management structure and designated Section Leads our goal is to work closely with the USFS and ASRA to identify trail maintenance needs, and work with the USFS and ASRA to both maintain the trails and plan and implement special projects.

The Trail Sections and Trail Section Leads are as follows:

  • Robie Equestrian Park to Watson Monument – Jim Mather
  • Watson Monument to Red Star Ridge Aid Station – Craig Thornley
  • Red Star Ridge Aid Station to Robinson Flat – Kynan Matz
  • Robinson Flat to Pacific Slab Mine – Mark Falcone
  • Pacific Slab Mine to Foresthill – Chaz Sheya
  • Foresthill to Rucky Chucky/ Poverty Bar – Tim & Austin Twietmeyer
  • Rucky Chucky to Browns Bar Trail at Quarry Road – Jay Marsh
  • Browns Bar Trail at Quarry Road to Finish Lines – Kassandra DiMaggio & Andy Mayo

  Although a number of our Section Leads have current chain saw and first aid (with CPR) certification, we have set up training classes to keep our Section Leads and their core team members current with their training, and to provide training for those not yet certified. We have encouraged our Section Leads to participate in trail crew leadership workshops.  With a higher level of training and skill our Trail Section Teams should be able to more efficiently respond to trail related issues, and help plan and implement both regular maintenance and special projects over a greater portion of the year. 

With respect to entrants selected to participate in the Western States Endurance Run, and their mandatory volunteer requirement, the WSERF and WSTF want to continue to encourage participants to give back to our community, so the volunteer requirement will remain in effect.  Although there may be fewer opportunities to fulfill an 8-hour volunteer requirement on the Western States Trail system, there will likely be a one or two trail work opportunities each year that will be advertised on the WSER (wser.org) and Tevis Cup (teviscup.org) webpages.  These events will likely be special projects where we need greater numbers of people to move or place materials.  We will still organize the Robinson Flat Trail Work Campout and Celebration (June 21/22, 2019) to complete trail work in the High Country in advance of WSER and the Tevis Cup. And you are encouraged to join one of our Trail Section Teams by contacting a Section Lead or John Catts (trails@wser.org).

In addition there are many other opportunities to help our trail community, by volunteering your time to either do trail work or work an aid station or vet check (see the WSER and Tevis volunteer pages).  As an example The Canyons Endurance Run has already planned local trail work days on April 13/14, May 11/12, and July 6/7, with signup at ultrasignup. Because this is a shift in how the WSER and Tevis Cup trails have been maintained in the past (a handful of core individuals and a number of large volunteer days), it will take some time to optimize our new Volunteer Steward Program. So please feel free to join a team, provide constructive feedback, or participate in our Robinson Flat Campout to learn how you can help.

Granite Chief Land Purchase Completed

With escrow closed, 10,000-acre purchase area near Granite Chief Wilderness opens to public, preserving Tevis and Western States events on historic Western States Trail

 AUBURN, Calif. – A year-long fundraising and negotiating effort to help the American River Conservancy purchase a strategically vital 10,000-acre parcel for public use has been completed, the Western States Trail Foundation and the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run Foundation announced on Tuesday. Escrow for the $11 million purchase of old-growth forest and mountain meadows near Granite Chief Wilderness and the Western States Trail closed late last week.

“Both of our boards are extremely pleased that this acquisition has been finalized,” Western States Trail Foundation president Tony Benedetti and Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run Foundation president John Trent said in a joint statement. “Opening the entire 100 miles of the Western States Trail to hikers, runners and equestrians has been one of the overriding goals of this effort. Now that this 10,000-acre area has been acquired by the ARC and is no longer a private holding, the public is the clear winner. Both the Tevis Cup 100-Mile Ride and the Western States 100-Mile Run will now have perpetual guaranteed access to the last privately-held section of the Western States Trail, ensuring no disruption for the future of either event. In addition, the acquisition now enables the United States Forest Service to complete its National Trail designation for the Western States Trail.”

The ARC, of Coloma, Calif., having partnered with Northern Sierra Partnership of Palo Alto, Calif., and the Nature Conservancy earlier this year, was able to reach its fundraising goal of $11 million in late July. Through fundraising and matching efforts of their own, the Western States Trail Foundation ($250,000) and the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run Foundation ($100,000) contributed to the ARC’s total.

“We are so appreciative for the generosity the Ride and Run communities have shown over the past year,” Benedetti and Trent said jointly. “Our stakeholders have recognized the importance of this project. They’ve stepped up to the plate with donations, and with their overwhelming support in making sure we were able to cross the finish line for this project. It’s been quite an effort over the past year to organize, to raise money, and to make sure that the interests of our stakeholders were well-represented throughout the entire process.”

The 10,000 acres, located immediately west of Lake Tahoe and Squaw Valley, Calif., had been previously owned by a timber investment firm. It includes 1,200 acres of mountain meadow and is considered a vital part of the State and Federal water delivery system to 23 million Californians. The area includes four “blue-ribbon” trout streams and three popular trails, including the hiking/running and equestrian trail used by the Tevis Cup and Western States 100 events, as well as the Picayune Valley Trail.

Western States Trail Foundation

Western States Endurance Run