Volunteers help the Sisters Trails Alliance repair bridge approaches on the bicycle and foot path from Tollgate to Sisters High School. photo by Craig Eisenbeis
By Craig Eisenbeis
Sunday morning, about a dozen volunteers braved the blustery weather to make improvements to the trail leading from Tollgate to Sisters High School.
"Most of these volunteers are from Tollgate," said Ann Marland, director of community outreach for the Sisters Trails Alliance (STA).
"In fact, most of them aren't even (STA) members," she said. "But we'd like to sign them up!"
This short trail segment is part of STA's 63 miles of local trails, but is one that receives heavy usage. "This is an important trail that helps high-school and middle-school kids get to school safely," Marland said. "It is part of the 'Safe Routes to School' program. It's also nice to have a route where kids learning to use bikes can ride safely."
Sunday's trail repairs centered around a bridge that crosses the seasonal Trout Creek streambed in the heart of a conservation study area adjacent to the high school grounds. Heavy use had eroded the path-to-bridge interface at both ends of the bridge, creating a sharp transition onto and off of the bridge.
Volunteers used fill dirt to close the gaps at the bridge ends and build up a more gradual slope to and from the bridge. Then gravel was brought in and spread to further reinforce the approaches.
STA has a program where its members can choose to adopt a specific trail or trail segment, and the Tollgate trail has been officially adopted by Dr. May Fan. "This trail stays amazingly clean," Fan said. "Dog walkers, kids, and adults enjoy this trail every day on foot and on bikes. There's even a Tollgate woman with limited mobility who regularly uses the trail on her motorized scooter."
Motorized wheelchairs and scooters for persons with limited mobility are an exception to what is otherwise designated as a non-motorized-use area.
Michelle Sims is a Tollgate resident who uses the trail on a regular basis.
"I commute here on my bike day and night," she said. "It's very safe, and the more use it gets, the safer it becomes. The worst threat I've seen was a family of chubby raccoons."
Fan sees the trail as a lifestyle changer. "I believe in youth biking to school," she said. "And it takes people off the highway." The highway was a big issue for all the volunteers. They pointed out that not only are the trail commuters not using cars, but they are not forced to travel along a high-speed, dangerous highway to use alternate transportation.
"This trail is only three-quarters of a mile long. To take a car, the drive around is a big 'C' shape," Fan said gesturing with her hands, "of three to five miles, depending on where you're starting from in Tollgate.
"I like to encourage kids to be less dependent on cars," said Fan, who arrived at the worksite on a bike. "You can easily beat the school bus on a bike," she said. "It takes 10 minutes to bike to school and 40 minutes on the bus; and, for after-school activities, kids can bike home without cars. It's all about kids being able to find their way in the world without mommy and daddy hovering."
Sims echoed Fan's remarks. "It's much safer on the trail than it is to turn them all loose on the highways. We don't have much infrastructure for kids to do other things, and that's why this trail is so important."
The volunteer turnout was better than expected, and the non-member Tollgate volunteers helped make the repair project a quick and easy one. In fact, the entire project took only an hour and a half. Fan said she was surprised that, just during that short amount of time, 23 other Tollgate trail users crossed the bridge while the volunteers were working there. "I had no idea that so many people used this trail," she said.
She reported entire families on bikes, tandem bikes, bikes with baby trailers, and one little girl on a bike so small that she said it probably could not have negotiated the rough bridge ramp before the alterations made that day. "I was pleased that we made a much smoother path. That's why I support paving these trails," Fan said. The STA hopes to pave this trail in the future in order to help create an even better and safer outdoor experience.
Anyone wishing to volunteer or become a "Friend of the Sisters Trails" can contact the STA on their website: www.sisterstrails.com. Interested persons can also contact Ann Marland directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.