Dos and Don'ts in Ashland's Watershed

Over the last few years alone, trail use in the Ashland Watershed and adjoining areas has skyrocketed, and users have started to compete for turf. As a result, the Ashland Woodlands and Trails Association (AWTA) proposed a “Trail Master Plan,” which would include constructing 10 miles of new trails, authorizing 21 miles of historic and user created trails, and separating mountain bikers from pedestrians in some places.  

Erosion is a constant concern in the Ashland Watershed
But for the plan to materialize, the AWTA has to raise $50,000 for an environmental assessment. Then the Forest Service has to find $50,000 to match it. And that’s only the first step in a long process.

In the meantime, user conflicts continue and so does illegal use of unauthorized trails, but defining what uses are legal – and where – can be confusing for trail users, so we went straight to the source, Recreation Specialist Steve Johnson for the Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

“Bicyclists are allowed on all roads and authorized trails in the Ashland Watershed, except for the road leading to Reeder Reservoir,” he says. Reeder Reservoir is Ashland’s municipal water source. Authorized trails have been assigned numbers by the Forest Service and approved after an environmental analysis. They include White Rabbit #1002, Caterpillar #1004, Toothpick #1010, Lamb Mine #1015, Catwalk #1003, Eastview #1012, Horn Gap #1014 (upper and lower), and Bull Gap #1017.

Most unauthorized trails aren’t engineered, surveyed and thoughtfully built by specialized crews. Instead, they are tracks quickly cut by unauthorized trail builders, or etched in by enough wheels traveling a single route. AWTA board-director Nathan Riddle says trails can be created by foot traffic, too. “And as far as I understand, that’s not illegal,” he adds.

“The primary impact [of illegal mountain bike use] is erosion and compaction, which can have detrimental effects on vegetation,” says Johnson. Vegetation is what holds mountains in place, and losing it leads to further erosion and can affect sensitive plant and animal communities.

But illegal trails don’t seem to be tainting Ashland’s water supply. “Since virtually all of the unauthorized trails are a far distance from water, there is no measured impact to either water quantity or quality,” Johnson adds.
So what are the possible ramifications for mountain bikers who decide to veer off of designated trails and roads in Forest Service land? The maximum punishment would be a $5,000 fine, six months in prison, and seizure and forfeiture of equipment, says Donna Mickley, Siskiyou Mountains District Ranger.

“Costs related to repairing and rehabilitating the landscape may also be levied,” she notes. When considering that the impact of bikes on water quality isn’t really measurable, a potential $5,000 fine and six months in the slammer can seem extreme to mountain bikers who enjoy getting off the beaten path.

Dam at Reeder Reservoir
Such isn’t the case for hikers. They have pretty much free reign in the watershed, though off-trail hiking may be frowned upon. “Except for the road leading to Reeder Reservoir and the area immediately around it, there are no restrictions [on foot travel],” says Johnson.

Conflicts on the trail may be sending pedestrians looking for new turf. Hikers often feel unsafe sharing roads and trails with bikers who sometimes travel at dangerous speeds. Fast bikers don’t only spook hikers. They spook horses, too. That’s one reason there’s hardly any equestrians presence in the watershed.

User conflicts are being addressed by the AWTA’s plan, but it’s going to take a while until we see on the ground solutions.

Once the estimated $100,000 assessment is complete, alternatives to the “Trail Master Plan” will be considered. After that, the Forest Service will make a decision that won’t necessarily approve new trail building or authorization. “New trail construction will be considered, but it’s premature to anticipate if it will be authorized,” says Johnson.

Trail crews won’t hit the ground until the decision is made and the project is funded. So for now, think about keeping bikes on designated roads and authorized trails. “The Forest Service isn’t issuing citations at this time, but this could change, especially as use and impacts continue to increase,” Mickley notes.

Trail construction on city land doesn’t require the same assessments, and off-trail use there would fall under city regulations. Anytime a “surface disturbance” is proposed on a National Forest, an environmental review must be made to ensure the project complies with the National Environmental Policy Act. Forest Service staffers call this a “NEPA review.”

21st-century resource offers glimpse into ancient past

Available for sale in late April

Trying to find easy to read information on conifers in the Klamath-Siskiyou  region? Maybe you've heard that the area has tons of conifers, but you don't know what to look for, or even where to look.

Well, search no longer. It can all be found at, the best, most concise and accessible resource on the natural history of conifers in Northern California and Southern Oregon.

Check out the Conifers tab to locate dozens of PDF field guides that feature top-notch photos, maps, and identification pointers for each Klamath-Siskiyou conifer. Study the PDFs at home, and for field use download them onto your mobile device or print them out. also features hikes, interactive maps, a blog and much, much more.

The website's creator, Michael Kauffmann, 38, of Kneeland, CA, has taken the Klamath-Siskiyou's complexity, condensed it, and wrapped it up into a user-friendly website. That's a breath of mountain-fresh air for those of us that love the Siskiyou, but find scientific literature technical to read, dry and wordy. 

And Kauffmann has done it all on his own. His work isn't backed by well-funded environmental organizations or big research grants. It's backed by passion.

"It is a labor of love that will soon be a book," says Kauffmann. "It will be printed in an accessible format for aspiring and expert botanists alike -- anyone who's interested in learning more about the regional conifers and where to go in the field to see them." he adds. 

His book, Conifer Countrywill be available for sale in late April. "I decided to self-publish so I could learn about the publishing business and how to lay out a book. I plan to offer traditional books printed on recycled paper as well as an eBook for mobile devices. This way I can also retain the rights to all my text, figures, and images.

When Kauffmann isn't working on publishing information on conifers, he is busy teaching science at Fortuna Union Elementary School and Humboldt State University. The next project on his plate is Conifers of the Pacific Slope, a field guide on conifers of Washington, Oregon and California.


SMC gets new board-director, Will Volpert

Will and Dana on Illinois River, South Bend Camp

Will Volpert’s passion for the outdoors is in his blood. He grew up with parents who were rafting and fly-fishing outfitters on Idaho’s Middle Fork and Mainstem Salmon Rivers. He spent every year of his youth floating Idaho’s rivers and exploring its canyons.

He moved to Ashland in 2004 to pursue a degree in Business Administration at Southern Oregon University. In 2005, Will took his first trip down the Wild & Scenic Illinois River and received his first exposure to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area. Of the many trips he's done, the Illinois would become his favorite.

After graduating from SOU in 2008, Will left Ashland and found work and adventure in Salmon, ID; Portland, OR; Bodfish, CA; and Selma, OR. Joining him was his partner, Dana Woodruff, who works as a whitewater photographer, complementing Will’s passion for rivers and wild places.

When Dana and Will decided to find a permanent living situation, of all the places they had explored and lived, they chose Ashland, OR in October 2010. By December of the same year, they hatched a plan to start a new whitewater rafting company, Indigo Creek Outfitters, named after a remote, wild tributary of the Illinois.

They developed a new model, focusing on simplifying coordination and providing half-day trips on the Rogue River upstream of Gold Hill. The Indigo Creek mission is to “deliver outdoor experiences that create lasting memories.” In addition to their rafting trips, Indigo Creek offers customers personalized photo CDs of their adventure. 

“Gabe Howe introduced me to the SMC in December 2011. I immediately felt like it was an organization I wanted to be involved with. The outdoors experience has always been a huge part of my life, and I place high value on public access to wilderness,” says Volpert. “Gabe’s enthusiasm and passion is contagious. I look forward to serving on the SMC board, working with volunteers and, most of all, getting outside to work on trails.”

Before the season has even begun, Will is displaying symptoms of log fever.

Will in action on the Rogue River