Help coming for ailing trail

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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Quartz Creek trail

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The long-neglected Quartz Creek trail No. 5 in the heart of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest is going to get some attention soon.

The Washington Trails Association has announced the route will be one of the group’s 10 “signature trail projects’’ this year.

Ryan Ojerio, WTA regional coordinator, said the association plans to have two Backcountry Response Teams repair the trail plus a weekend work party will tackle poor tread, down trees and overgrowing brush on the lower five miles.

The WTA is getting a $22,000 federal grant under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act to help finance the Quartz Creek trail restoration and other work in Skamania County.

Quartz Creek trail No. 5 begins on Gifford Pinchot National Forest road No. 90 just opposite the upper end of popular Lewis River trail No. 31.

Quartz Creek No. 5 climbs relatively gently at first up the Quartz Creek drainage, then has some of the steeper grades in the Pinchot forest before ending at Boundary trail No. 1 in the Dark Divide Roadless Area. The total length is 10.6 miles.

The trail does not parallel the creek, but weaves in and out of side canyons and up and down small rises and ridges. It only intermittently comes close to Quartz Creek.

Online reports from hikers in the past two years mention no bridges crossing Straight and Snagtooth creeks plus portions of upper Quartz Creek trail with “hundreds of blowdowns.’’

But Quartz Creek is one the premier old-growth forests in the Cascades.

John and Diane Cissell, authors of the 1996 map “Fifty Old-Growth Hikes in the Southern Washington Cascades,’’ wrote this about Quartz Creek:

“Prolific forests reach skyscraper proportions on benches and in draws where soils are deep and well-watered...The old forests reach their zenith about halfway between Straight Creek and Snagtooth Creek and again near Quartz Creek Camp. Enormous Douglas firs and western redcedars (4-6 feet thick) are tightly packed in these forest oases.’’

Ojerio said the Backcountry Response Teams are schedule to work on Quartz Creek trail on Aug. 12-15 and Sept. 9-12.

Ojerio said he gets calls and e-mails about trails hikers want WTA to fix and Quartz Creek No. 5 topped his list in 2010.

“In addition to being a great backpacking destination that is accessible much of the year, it is a gateway to the largest roadless area in the Washington Cascades,’’ he said. “While the low-elevation valley retains ancient stands of old-growth, the upper elevations provide open meadows, summer wildflowers and scenic vistas.’’

Cape Horn trail in western Skamania County is also on WTA’s list of 10 signature trails for 2011.