Photo: The Lone Fir Spur Trail in the north end of the Sage Hills after it was bulldozed on October 24.
The Day the Lone Fir Trail Became the Lone Fir Road
It’s only through dumb luck, or perhaps through the good karma accrued by Neal Hedges, that the Lone Fir Spur, the three-year-old trail in northern part of the Sage Hills, did not get disfigured into a road. On the morning of October 24, Hedges, the Stewardship Director for the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust, happened to be working at the Horse Lake Reserve, owned by the Land Trust, when he saw the machinery. Checking it out, he ran into a small bulldozer, owned by the Chelan PUD, blading the Lone Fir trail into a dirt road.
Confused and distressed that a trail the Land Trust and its volunteers had spent a lot of resources building was being destroyed, Hedges rushed to find out what was taking place and attempted to stop the work. The ‘what’ of it all was quickly determined: A powerline tower a half mile to the south needed a new guy wire to support it so about 1.25 miles of trail was being bladed so a backhoe could access the tower. Hedges knew that an ambiguous easement for this property, allowed the PUD to ‘cross’ it to maintain its power lines, but did road building on their property constitute ‘crossing’?
Photo: Looking down the Lone Fir Spur toward the draw where the Homestead Trail branches off.
Hedges also wanted to know why the PUD hadn’t notified the Land Trust about this visit and its intent. The workers running the machinery were following orders but when they called for answers their supervisor instructed that they were to carry on with the bulldozing until he personally gave orders to stop.
Fortunately the bulldozer operator did stop while Hedges contacted others at the PUD who understood the big picture of what was taking place on the Land Trust’s property and how this complemented the PUD’s own wildlife agenda for the Sage Hills.
With the bulldozer at rest, Hedges discussed other alternatives for getting the job done. Why not take a smaller, lighter, tracked excavator (like a Bobcat) over land to the power pole? This would be quick, do minimal damage to ground cover, and would probably be cheaper. It also wouldn’t destroy a trail the Land Trust had spent a lot of grant money and several hundred volunteer hours constructing. Hedges showed the PUD where a small excavator could access its pole.
This alternative was successfully implemented the next day and the power tower got its maintenance through far less-invasive tactics. Thanks to Hedges, the PUD also got off the hook with a little poke to the eye rather than the public-relations black eye it would have received had its employees obliterated another mile of a popularly used trail on property it didn’t own.
What went wrong here? Communication. In this case, the land owner was never contacted to discuss the work that needed to take place nor to provide input on how to best accomplish that work. The need to contact the land owner was on the work order for the project, but the actual contact never took place. “Had we been notified, we could have discussed options and come up with a solution like the tracked excavator that fulfilled their needs and did minimal damage to our property,” said Hedges.
This could have been a much larger problem than the ‘oops’ it became, and the Chelan PUD would be wise to use that good fortune as an opportunity to analyze what went south with its procedures and chain of command. Among the division tasked with this work there was an absence of knowledge about the recreation and conservation values of the lands being impacted. There also seemed to be a reluctance at the supervisory level to deal with little problems (like a complaining landowner) getting in the way of getting the job done.
The Land Trust has been gracious about the faux pas and has maintained a ‘mistakes-happen’ attitude. WenatcheeOutdoors is a little more appalled. We recognize the Chelan PUD is economically and recreationally an important and a well-intentioned organization in this region. We also recognize in bureaucracies it is common for some divisions to be unaware of what other divisions are doing – a reality impacting this incident. Nonetheless, bulldozing a 1.25-mile scar across another landowner’s property without their approval, turning a trail that took considerable resources to build into a road without the input of the landowner, and having a supervisor brushing-off a representative of the landowner who was trying to ascertain what was taking place all highlight problems with procedures, policies, and attitudes that warrant self-analysis.
- See a topographic map of the Sage Hills and the Lone Fir Spur.
- Hikers and mountain bikers will encounter the damaged portion of trail about a half mile from the Horse Lake Trailhead as they follow the trail south toward the new Homestead Trail.
- Currently about a quarter mile of trail has been damaged. All grade reversals and outsloping of the trail to prevent erosion issues have been eliminated.
- The Land Trust (hopefully with help from the PUD) will reshape and reseed this section of trail in the weeks ahead. This will allow the surface of the trail to set up over the winter and will knock back some of the noxious weeds that are sure to sprout in the disturbed soil next spring.