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American Hiking Society joins forces with BLM to clean up island locales

The crew that helped beautify Lopez, San Juan, and Patos Island this summer.  - contributed photo
The crew that helped beautify Lopez, San Juan, and Patos Island this summer.
— image credit: contributed photo

by Joan Carter

Shovels. Pulaskis. Pruning shears. Wheelbarrows. Crowbars. McLeods. Crosscut saws.

This was the hardware of denizens of the forest trails on Lopez Island early this summer. Members of the American Hiking Society (AHS) disembarked from the inter-island ferry, flying or driving in from six far-flung states, to join the Bureau of Land Management. Listening to Nick Teague, Outdoor Recreation Planner for the agency that evening, terms like “big plan,” “little plan,” “grubbing,” “rerouting,” and “trail tread surfacing” were given careful attention. Dazzling maps riveted the attention of this hardy crew.

“We know what you mean, Nick!” shouted six of them, grinning broadly. They were returnees from two previous work crews in 2006 and 2007, and knew all too well Nick’s thick plots and crafty plans – and couldn’t wait to get started Monday morning!

Camped in the verdant campground at Odlin County Park, the crew whizzed through breakfast and immediately fanned out on one of Odlin’s beautiful trails with Jodie Snapp, the park manager. Hardly had we begun when Nick whisked us off to the south end of Lopez.

“Chadwick Hill,” he intoned, “has plenty of Stinging Nettle,” adding “…but it’s a great plant. You can boil it and eat it raw, and it has medicinal magic!” The crew grumbled, knowing all too well how it got its name. It’s the bane of the casual hiker, leaving its fine hairs embedded in the skin of the unwary. “Let’s go clear this trail!” and we hustled up the hill. Working in twos and threes, with Nick regularly examining our progress, we moved swiftly and efficiently. Our bright yellow hardhats were often the only way to identify where a crewmember was working! As the overgrowth was cut back, the stinging nettles were carefully removed … and hikers passing us hailed the re-claiming of the trail.

Orcas? Orcas! “Yes! Hurry!” we chorused as we loaded into the Lopez Island Senior Center mini-bus to head over to San Juan Island. The white “Seniormobile” drew plenty of stares. We arrived at the West-side Preserve, maintained by the San Juan County Land Bank, and jackhammered a section near the water’s edge. All of a sudden, there they were: a resident pod of Orcas, black and white tailfins breaking the surface of the water, weren’t but 700 yards from our trail! We were exhilarated by the stunning show, clear blue skies, and 70-mile visibility, clear to the city of Victoria on distant Vancouver Island.

“A day of rest is an important part of the ‘Big Plan,’” Nick said, as the crew gathered ‘round on Wednesday morning, “But if you want to…” – the long-time volunteers know Nick’s tactics well – “join me and the gang from the Lopez Island Conservation Corps. We’re going to Point Colville!” And what a vigorous and enthusiastic bunch those kids were, too.

Thursday: Odlin Park. We rerouted portions of the Cliffside trail and hauled cedar mulch in wheelbarrows until the path looked like the imaginary Road to the Land of Oz.

The Big Boat Ride: Well ... almost “big boat.” Friday’s trip to Patos Island on a small Washington State Parks boat took us to the most northwestern point in the lower 48 states. After a short ascent through the woods, the Patos lighthouse stood resplendent in the sunshine. Nick introduced the crew to the construction team and we were treated to a grand tour – complete with the vision of Mt. Baker’s snowcapped peak floating in the distance. A full day of trail work on Patos Island was our gracious reward.

A tradition begun in 2007 by Nick and Lopez island resident/crew member Linda Hudson is the bestowing of nicknames at the closing dinner party: Butterfly, Elmer, Jill-hammer are a few. The explanations of the names draw guffaws, and leave a lasting impression of the affection we’ve come to feel for one another. The hard work unites us. The local, county, state and federal partnerships inspire us. “Coach” Nick promotes a “can-do” spirit. But most importantly, we of the AHS feel we’ve contributed something as stewards of the land. It’s a small dent … but we truly love what we do! The spirit of Lopez is spreading!

Joan Carter is a crew leader for the American Hiking Society.

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