MEDFORD, Ore. — Where the Pacific Crest Trail winds through Crater Lake National Park, stretches of it seem to belie the majesty and beauty of Oregon’s only national park.
Several miles of the PCT follow old fire-fighting roads, which makes for a less-than-wonderful hiking experience while also causing erosion headaches for park officials.
There are stretches along fire roads that are less-aesthetic,” says Ian Nelson, regional coordinator for the Pacific Crest Trail Association. “Doing something about that is definitely on my list for this year.”
Nelson and park officials will look at possibly rerouting the PCT off those roads as part of a new effort to craft a plan guiding the park’s trail management for a decade or longer.
The National Park Service is in the early stages of drafting its first-ever Trail Management Plan for Crater Lake, outlining ways to integrate how the park service deals with the nearly 100 miles of trails within the 183,224-acre park.
Possibilities include trail monitoring to find out where traffic is heavy and where it is light, adding new trails or decommissioning old ones, says Scott Burch, the park’s management assistant overseeing the plan’s creation.
The plan will also look at creating more connectivity between trails, all with the idea that the park has more underfoot than blue water, clean air and the story of Mount Mazama.
“There’s a whole other park out there,” Burch says. “We should look for opportunities for visitors getting beyond the rim. That in and of itself isn’t bad. It’s a fun thing to do, but there’s more to do here.”
The park service is in the midst of a 30-day comment period to gather public input on issues or concerns people have about what the trail plan will address.
“We’ll listen to the public and other agencies to see what they’d like to see in the trail plan,” Burch says.
The park service plans to address those issues when drafting an Environmental Assessment for the plan.
That assessment will include a no-action alternative and an alternative preferred by the planners. Additional alternatives are also possible.
The draft assessment, which likely will be done in late summer or early fall, will be up for public comment before a final assessment outlining the plan is completed.
Burch says he hopes to have the plan in place by the spring of 2015.
The PCT and its spur trails that lead day-hikers and long-distance hikers to the Crater Lake rim are heavily used, and park officials expect that use to continue increasing, so the plan will address any possible changes to that route.
“It’s a pretty significant project,” Nelson says. “Any time you talk about moving the PCT and building a new trail in the national park, there’s a lot to do before you start digging in the dirt.”
In the past, any new trail had to go through its own planning process, and the cumulative impacts a new trail had on other trails often went unstudied, Burch says.
“This way, we feel like we can get a better handle on the future,” Burch says.