Montana Outdoors

April 4, 2015

Fading away

A couple of days ago a friend and I hiked part of an old trail, probably for the last time; the Ashley Creek trail 454. It was created sometime in the 1930s, probably by the Civilian Conservation Corps by the looks of its construction, but apparently hasn’t been tended to for several years and although the Forest Service still shows it on their maps, it is going back to its earlier natural state. I am fearful that it is but one of many that the Forest Service will keep alive only on paper, probably in an attempt to show a larger than actual trail inventory as their department steadily morphs into another hopelessly incompetent and ineffectual bureaucracy. Following are some photos from along the trail.

Ashley Creek trail 454

The old trail sign still exists as it nears the century mark.

Ashley Creek trail 454

Ashley Creek trail 454

Ashley Creek trail 454

Ashley Creek is the water supply for a small Montana town.

Ashley Creek trail 454

Ashley Creek trail 454

Ashley Creek trail 454

Ashley Creek trail 454

Ashley Creek trail 454

It was a very pleasant surprise to see two species of wildflowers in bloom in a sunny spot on the mountainside along the trail, a thousand feet above the trail head. Upon perusing my photo library, I found that this is the earliest bloom for either of them that I’ve encountered by about two weeks. Who’d-a-thunk-it!

Small Bluebells, Long-flowered Lungwort, Trumpet Bluebells ~ Mertensia longiflora

Small Bluebells, Long-flowered Lungwort, Trumpet Bluebells ~ Mertensia longiflora

Small Bluebells, Long-flowered Lungwort, Trumpet Bluebells ~ Mertensia longiflora

Early blue violet, Viola adunca

Early blue violet ~ Viola adunca

Ashley Creek trail 454

Ashley Creek trail 454

Ashley Creek trail 454

It’s sad to lose another such treasure from our early days.

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36 Comments »

  1. I have a feeling that if you asked them about the trail, they would say that with continuing budget cuts–like those at NPS–they don’t have the funds to maintain it. So much of their money gets used up fighting fires, the rest of it probably gets allocated to higher priority sites than many of the trails.

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    Comment by Malcolm R. Campbell — April 4, 2015 @ 8:36 pm

    • I’ve heard the complaints about budget cuts for so many years I’m getting tired of it. I think they would rather sit around and cry about budget cuts than do the things that need to be done to care for the forests. They have plenty of time and manpower to drive around in a large fleet of trucks without showing much productivity for it. I have the feeling that very few Forest Service employees give a damn about the forests any more, being more concerned about getting promoted to that next GS level that putting theior boots on a trail.

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      Comment by montucky — April 4, 2015 @ 9:23 pm

      • We need some managers with enough grit to get some people out on the trails even if those folks are volunteers. Volunteers help take care of a lot of trails: sections of the Appalachian trail come to mind. The Forest Service can bring in a couple of bus loads of people who will do some good work and get some good exercise.

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        Comment by Malcolm R. Campbell — April 5, 2015 @ 10:29 am

        • Volunteers are in very short supply in this neighborhood, especially when it involves very hard work! (So are managers with grit!)

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          Comment by montucky — April 5, 2015 @ 7:10 pm

  2. Too bad it’s growing in like that. You could always go up there with your power saw…. .

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    Comment by wordsfromanneli — April 4, 2015 @ 8:36 pm

    • Clearing the downed trees is only the simplest part of maintenance on a trail like that. There are parts of the trail itself missing and the tread is badly in need of repair, as are the water bars which keep the tread from washing out. Once a trail suffers that much neglect, it becomes very expensive to bring back to useful life.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by montucky — April 4, 2015 @ 9:26 pm

  3. Wonderful photos, Terry.
    Good to hear you were able to follow this trail (despite its un-tended appearance).
    On one hand, I’m delighted to hear that its reverting back to the natural state. On the other, its sad to hear the it is no longer trekked and shared by humans with all its natural beauty.

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    Comment by Vicki — April 4, 2015 @ 8:45 pm

    • Perhaps letting nature reclaim it is the best action for this particular trail, but I think that should be addressed up front and have it officially decommissioned and taken off the maps and trail inventory. It seems bordering on fraudulent to show roads and trails that are non-existent or not maintained and unusable on what are purported to be recent and accurate maps.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by montucky — April 4, 2015 @ 9:31 pm

  4. I like the part of the trail that runs along the rocky cliff. I was able to get out today and spend some time in my boat and then found a little area where the grandchildren and I got out and walked around a little bit. If I can’t be out in the wilds of Montana then the bayous of Louisiana will have to do.

    Like

    Comment by Ron Mangels — April 4, 2015 @ 9:04 pm

    • Ron, I’m glad that you are able to at least get out on the bayous, although I know how much you miss these mountains. I remember enjoying the waterways along the coast of North Carolina and spend my spare time enjoying them while I was stationed down there.

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      Comment by montucky — April 4, 2015 @ 9:35 pm

  5. Thanks for taking us on this trail which may eventually not be a trail! The bluebells and violets are very pretty. Great pictures! It is disappointing that the trails won’t be maintained. I feel very glad that we still have many national park trails here that are looked after. It’s great for the health of the community to have places to enjoy nature. Not everyone is mobile enough to walk through overgrown scrub and so providing well maintained tracks is an important way to enable access for those who are less mobile (such as the aged or disabled) and for families of young children. It’s also a way to protect the forests from development in the future as when people regularly enjoy a place, they will fight to protect it. But if no-one can go there easily, there is little protest if it is placed under threat.

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    Comment by Jane — April 4, 2015 @ 10:28 pm

    • There are many trails on the forest inventory that will still be maintained, but they are be losing ground every year. I have been nervous about this for years, and it is be getting worse. Now the Forest Service has opened up a whole bunch of trails to motorcycle use which will destroy the trails quite rapidly because of the erosion of the tread of the trails. The trails were developed, created and maintained for use on foot and horseback and are not suitable for motorized vehicles. I expect the erosion caused by the machines will fairly quickly destroy them, at which time, without adequate funds to repair them they too will be lost after nearly a century of use.

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      Comment by montucky — April 4, 2015 @ 10:46 pm

      • I will never understand why people want to desecrate the quiet beauty of an old forest – any forest – with motorized vehicles. Go find a salt flat and build your own obstacles! On foot or horseback one can really appreciate your surroundings.

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        Comment by debandtoby — April 5, 2015 @ 6:57 am

  6. I love hiking and so even if I don’t know that trail, but it would be sad to lose it. Just wondering – are there hiking clubs that can help with maintaining some trails? I know some clubs do that.

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    Comment by Zambian Lady — April 5, 2015 @ 3:30 am

    • This is a sparsely populated area and there are no hiking clubs near here that I know of. The Back Country Horsemen do help a lot maintaining some of the trails and that’s a very good thing. In an area about a hundred miles from here there is an excellent organization, The Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, that does a terrific job of promoting and supporting the Scotchman Peaks area.

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      Comment by montucky — April 5, 2015 @ 7:45 am

  7. Such beautiful land. How sad to lose the trail.

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    Comment by debandtoby — April 5, 2015 @ 6:52 am

    • I hate to see us lose any of the trails. They are all treasures that allow primitive access to some of the only really wild back country that still exists. Sadly though there is more pressure on exploitation of such places than there is for saving them and the vast majority of people these days really don’t know what we are losing or how serious of a problem that is.

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 5, 2015 @ 7:49 am

  8. You’d think with all the people still out of work that they could easily find people to work on the trails. But of course if they actually paid people to do it that would mean less money was funneled off to the corporate giants, and we can’t have that.
    At least you got to see a couple of beautiful wildflowers. I wish those bluebells grew here.

    Like

    Comment by New Hampshire Garden Solutions — April 5, 2015 @ 6:52 am

    • It is impossible to maintain these trails only by volunteers: that many are just not available. The work is hard and can be dangerous and it requires a surprising amount of knowledge and skill to do it. The Forest Service usually hires college students to staff the crews but of course they have to have their own trained staff as supervisors and crew leaders and those positions are seasonal. The summer fire crews do a lot of trail maintenance in the early part of the summer but their efforts stop when fire season starts up. A few years ago there was a lot of work done because there was the “stimulus” money available to hire folks, but trails in these mountains need attention each summer or they degrade quickly.

      I worked for several weeks one fall as a volunteer teamed up with an experienced Forest Service trail supervisor. It was a wonderful experience that I am thankful to have had and the supervisor with whom I worked is now a close friend and hiking companion. On a typical day we would drive 40-50 miles to a trail head then clear somewhere around 4 miles of trail starting at an elevation of perhaps 3000 feet and finishing at an elevation of 6000 feet. Besides sawing and removing trees that fell over the trail during winter storms, repairing bad sections of tread, cutting back brush and repairing water bars on the trail just the hike of 8 miles carrying a 20 lb chain saw, a Pulaski and supplies made for a relatively aggressive 10 hour day.

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      Comment by montucky — April 5, 2015 @ 8:08 am

  9. Wow, those bluebells are intense! I love those moss-covered rocks. I hope that the trail doesn’t fall into disuse, and that you will still be able to enjoy it.

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    Comment by Jo Woolf — April 5, 2015 @ 8:28 am

    • Yes, it’s pretty up there, but I think that trail is about done for. It was even difficult to find it at one turn where a short trail led away to the stream. It was wonderful to see the flowers so early in the season and in such an unexpected place!

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      Comment by montucky — April 5, 2015 @ 8:46 am

  10. Wow, so blue…although they tell me there is really no such color in nature…??

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    Comment by 2ndhalfolife — April 5, 2015 @ 3:04 pm

    • There are quite a few wild flowers that are blue, but in my opinion, this is the prettiest blue in the lot.

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      Comment by montucky — April 5, 2015 @ 7:11 pm

  11. Yep, looks like that trail is on its last legs. On the other hand it wouldn’t take too much to clean it up with a good crew. Too bad the Forest Service isn’t interested in doing this. Sounds like they’d rather stay in the office. BTW the bluebell photos are some of your best ever. Absolutely stunning!

    Like

    Comment by WildBill — April 5, 2015 @ 4:34 pm

    • On their behalf, the Forest Service does clear a whole lot of trails, but much more needs to be done to save all of them. I remember the year I volunteered with them they cleared a hundred miles of trail. I sure hate to see trails that have served well for nearly a century decay and disappear for lack of maintenance. Sadly, it is a society thing, far beyond the reach of the local Ranger District. A far bigger criticism is that they have now opened hundreds of miles of trail to motorcycles and we both know what that means to wildlife as well as trail quality and trail life.

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 5, 2015 @ 7:16 pm

  12. The motorized vehicles on trails remind me of the personal watercraft around here. The skidoos and such don’t actually harm the water, of course, but the disturbance they cause is equal. As for desk-bound bureaucrats, what they’d doing to the recreational fishing community here is terrible. Dictates from above, from people who don’t know a jig from a live mullet. Ah, well. The flowers are beautiful!

    Like

    Comment by shoreacres — April 6, 2015 @ 7:58 am

    • “Virtual” management doesn’t work for natural resources. The local District Range retired at the end of last year. I wonder if I could buy his hiking boots; they should be in good shape because they’ve never been used.

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      Comment by montucky — April 6, 2015 @ 8:27 am

  13. The foothills here in my area have fought a similar battle with no success. They have been so opened to four-wheelers and such that the experience is lost for those who want the quiet of the woods. As usual, bureaucracies pander to the lowest common denominator.

    But, your photos are beautiful, the bluebells and violets exquisite.

    Like

    Comment by Teresa Evangeline — April 6, 2015 @ 9:03 am

    • Sad to see that you have the thrill machine problem there too. Here the trails will suffer, but the effects on wildlife and the rest of the ecology will be the most damaging. I’m very surprised that the Fish Wildlife and Parks people haven’t raised it as a big issue.

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 6, 2015 @ 9:23 am

  14. That’s really sad about the Forest Service. I always thought that they and the NPS probably were full of caring, conservation-minded, idealistic people. Sad that it’s just another corrupt government bureaucracy like all the rest. Must have been very bittersweet to you, thinking it’s the last time you’ll go there.

    Like

    Comment by Candace — April 9, 2015 @ 9:44 pm

    • Yes, I have been very disappointed with the Forest Service. I have found a few there who really do love the forests, but not very many. I feel sorry for those few too because they know how it could and should be.

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 10, 2015 @ 7:34 pm

  15. Wild nature. I am glad that you found there wild flowers like Small Bluebells.

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    Comment by Sartenada — April 16, 2015 @ 2:09 am

    • Seeing the bluebells there so early was a very nice surprise. That makes hiking very pleasant!

      Like

      Comment by montucky — April 16, 2015 @ 8:30 am


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