Though the group of Jeepers and off-roaders dedicated to rebuilding off-highway vehicle trails in the wake of devastating wildfires only formed a few months ago, it has already contributed to the reopening of one such trail and aims to have several more back in operation in the coming months.
“I tried to get the state to do something, to release some funds, but they couldn’t do it,” Ted Cabral of the California OHV Commission told the group of volunteers assembled in the Chappie/Shasta Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area. “It became clear that this needed to be a volunteer effort, and that we’re here to help when they need it.”
Those volunteers came from the ranks of the Post Wildfire OHV Recovery Alliance, which formed in August after the Carr and Mendocino Complex fires in total scorched more than 688,000 acres in Northern California. The former fire, which firefighters contained at the end of August, shut down the Chappie/Shasta OHV Recreation Area until the beginning of October, but it took the efforts of PWORA to reopen the area’s 250-plus miles of roads and trails.
“This is our starter, our kickoff event,” said Del Albright, one of the founders of PWORA, who noted that about 35 volunteers came together October 20 to clean out culverts plugged with debris that would lead to flooding and washed-out trails, install no-dig barriers to keep visitors to the trails and out of areas left sensitive by the fire, put up signs, and clean trash and debris from trails. They also found an illegal tire dump and cleaned out dozens of tires, a task made simpler by the winches many of the volunteers had on their rigs.
“We’ll probably have to come back again because there’s a lot of area out there,” he said.
While Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service crews began to assess the burned areas before the fires were 100 percent contained, both Cabral and Albright noted that it typically takes years for trails within wildfire areas to reopen, not months.
According to Albright, the trails themselves suffer not so much from the fire but from the bulldozers that use the trails to access the fires and then create firebreaks meant to contain the fires. Wildfires also destroy the signage and kiosks that tend to accompany the trails and they leave the landscape surrounding the trails susceptible to increased erosion.
While PWORA started out as a simple Facebook group, it has now attracted nearly 1,000 members from across the country and its leadership has taken the first steps in filing to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Albright said the group is “gonna take this up 10 levels” with more trail rebuilding sessions in the future. The group already has dozens of volunteers committed to trail rebuilding in multiple areas burned by the Mendocino Complex fire and others interested in trail rebuilding in Southern California, southern Oregon, and northern Nevada.
Representatives from the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service did not respond to calls for comment on volunteer trail rebuilding efforts.