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Lost Trails Found: Creating a Sustainable Future for the North Fork Sullivan Trail

Posted by Frances Chiem at Oct 10, 2016 06:10 PM |

Strong partnerships, trail funding and a lot of hard work in the field means brings one trail in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness come back from the brink.

North Fork Sullivan Bridge Removal
The WTA crew removed the damaged 90-foot bridge through the wetlands in summer of 2016. The future trail will circle around the delicate area. Photo by Loren Drummond.
With the help of WTA’s passionate community of advocates and volunteers, we set a goal in 2015 to rehabilitate five “lost trails” by 2020. These are trails that are on the brink of becoming incredibly difficult to travel or—in some cases—are already completely inaccessible.

This past summer, volunteers began work on one of these lost trails, the North Fork Sullivan Trail, in the state’s quiet northeastern corner.

Just a few hours north of Spokane, this world-class trail system has all the trappings of a haven for backpackers and day hikers alike. The path offers peaceful cedar groves, views of larches and aspen, occasional sightings of thrush and wrens and an afternoon snack of ripe huckleberries. The North Fork Sullivan also hosts a section of the proposed route for the epic Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail.

There’s just one problem preventing anyone from getting out there: the bridge is out.

Before the trail crosses into the Salmo-Priest Wilderness and up to the high reaches of Crowell Ridge, hikers and horses must traverse a 60-foot-wide wetland. Over the years the bridge that made this possible became damaged and unsafe—essentially closing the trail.

Rebuilding the bridge would have been merely a temporary solution, one that would have needed to be repeated within 20 years. To create a sustainable solution to the problem, the Colville National Forest asked WTA to help remove the bridge. During a recent Backcountry Response Team trip led by WTA's Holly Weiler, volunteers worked to dismantle 90 feet of planks, saw up and disperse dozens of enormous cedar beams and haul tons of support rock into the forest, where it had originally been gathered.

“We pried [out] every nail, every length of rebar, to haul out with us,” said Loren Drummond, WTA’s digital content manager, who worked on and documented the trip.

Going forward, the Colville National Forest plans to reroute the trail away from the wetland to eliminate the need for hikers and equestrians to cross the water. The project is dependent on funding, but there is hope. While the trail won’t open this season, the work of eight volunteers, some incredible pack support from Back Country Horsemen of Washington, and collaboration with the Pacific Northwest Trail Association left this lost trail one step closer to being found.

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