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Vigilant trail maintenance keeps local endurance events running

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Cancellation of the Western States Endurance Run won’t slow year-round trail maintenance efforts that depend on volunteer help. The Western States Trail had been the subject of extensive work again this year in anticipation of the 100-mile endurance run from Squaw Valley to Auburn and the Tevis Cup ride later this summer. Mark Falcone, a longtime Auburn resident who heads the trail crew, said that 1,800 hours of volunteer labor has been donated over the past year to cut vegetation, rebuild steps and install metal water bars to prevent erosion. That’s on top of about $30,000 in contracted labor to do some of the more skilled jobs along the mountainous route. One of the most recent efforts saw close to 60 people volunteer earlier this month to plant 4,300 tree seedlings, which were donated by the Washington, D.C.-based American Forests as part of its Global ReLeaf program. The Auburn-based Forest Foundation was part of the tree-planting party, along with 20 high school students from Colfax, Auburn and Loomis, foresters and local endurance athletes. The foundation has partnered with the Western States Endurance Run over the past four years to help restore forest and trail systems – targeting the Duncan Canyon area the Western States Trail crosses and where a 2001 fire ravaged the Tahoe National Forest and shut down a key section of the trail for four years. The foundation donated $5,000 this year and has given similar amounts in past years. The donations have gone to everything from feeding volunteers to buying tools to hiring equipment operators. Volunteers have moved close to 3,000 trees over the past four years from areas in and around the trail. “It’s nice to plant more than 4,000 seedlings,” Falcone said. “Our goal is to plant one tree for each one we clear off the trail.” Equestrians and donors like the Robie Foundation and Drucilla Barner Foundation also have provided important support over the years, he said. A Western States finisher as well as president of the Forest Foundation, Donn Zea said that running through burned out areas or around them has provided him with a lasting reminder of the power of fire in a forest. Thinning and other management techniques are available for many areas and prevent larger wildfires, he said. “When you’re running the trail, you go through sections that are managed well and you know you’re in a healthy, special place,” Zea said. “When you get into the thick of the brush, if a fire got in there, it would be problematic.” Zea said the model provided by Western States Trail users – including requiring participants to volunteer on trail work – is one that other events should take on. “And it’s about local citizens who care about a healthy forest and healthy trails,” he said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at AuburnJournal.com.