Starting with a USFS-sponsored meeting on April 26, 2016, a group of individuals in Wallowa County, Oregon, began meeting weekly to work toward forming a volunteer organization to address community concerns about the condition of trails and cultural resources in the area. These meetings eventually led to the creation of a membership-based non-profit organization, the Wallowa Mountains Hells Canyon Trails Association (WMHCTA), which was officially launched on February 13, 2017.
The purpose of WMHCTA is to achieve “boots on the ground” improvements in the condition of trails, river corridors, and cultural heritage sites (e.g., cabins, traditional Native American sites) on US Forest Service and other lands in northeast Oregon. As the name implies, the focus of the group is on the trails and rivers of the Wallowa Mountains and Hells Canyon regions, although other areas, such as the Elkhorn Mountains and the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness, may be included. WMHCTA mobilizes volunteers in order to improve recreational access, prevent deterioration and damage to natural and cultural resources, and provide educational and developmental opportunities for students and adults.
WMHCTA is part of the Eagle Cap Partnership (ECP), a cooperative agreement among Eastern Oregon University, the USFS, and Wallowa Resources (a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the economic and environmental health of rural communities through land stewardship). The ECP seeks to implement a “collective impact approach” to achieve broader and faster results in multiple land and water stewardship arenas, including trail maintenance and improvements.
As part of this approach, WMHCTA works closely with the USFS to identify work projects, gather resources (tools, building materials, etc.), and train volunteers. WMHCTA is an explicitly non-political organization. We keep our focus on getting work done on the ground, and we work in collaboration with federal, state, and county agencies as well as other private and non-profit organizations.
The organization is led by a board of seven to fifteen committed individuals who meet monthly and who collectively represent a variety of skills and areas of interest, including hiking, backpacking, horse packing, aviation, boating, hunting, cultural heritage, education and research. Skills include experience with backcountry tools and maintenance techniques, as well as financial, legal, grant writing, communications, fundraising, collaboration, networking, and other abilities. During the field season we also hold weekly meetings to focus on project planning and implementation.
Currently there are over 100 members of WMHCTA. In five years of field operations, we have clocked over 11,000 hours of volunteer time while putting in 244 days in the field. We’ve cleared 479 miles of trail, removing approximately 3,500 trees in the process. And we’ve had fun doing it, with no serious injuries.