Local trail stewards honored for Wild and Scenic management
Last updated 12/22/2021 at Noon
Last Friday, the Whychus Creek overlook was the stage for presenting Sisters Trails Alliance (STA) a much-deserved award. The STA was named winner of the 2021 National Wild and Scenic Award for Outstanding Stewardship, one of four Wild and Scenic River Management awards. The much-heralded, all-volunteer organization received the award for its efforts at restoring Whychus Creek. The creek is an essential branch of area tourism and a respite for myriad Sisters Country recreationalists.
“We are so grateful for the work done in partnership over many years with the Sisters Trails Alliance to restore and maintain the health and beauty of Whychus Creek, and we want to celebrate them winning this significant national award for their stewardship,” said Holly Jewkes, Bend-based Deschutes National Forest supervisor.
The nomination, prepared by the Sisters Ranger District of the Deschutes National Forest, stated:
“The Sisters Trails Alliance... helped by accepting the grant funding for needed tasks to complete approved facilities and restoration. These included: a one-mile barrier-free loop, overlook platform, restroom, three-mile river trail, one- mile draw connector trail, and a roads-to-trails mountain-bike trail.
“STA developed a stewardship program, supporting implementation and ongoing maintenance of the management plan by routinely educating other trail users about Wild and Scenic River values, helping to rehabilitate social trails and non-designated dispersed campsites, monitoring successes and infractions throughout the implementation of the management plan. Their valuable assistance in the management of the Whychus Wild and Scenic river corridor cannot be overstated.”
Whychus Creek, with its headwater tributaries in the Three Sisters mountains, was designated a Wild and Scenic River in 1988.
“The creek runs through Sisters and faced threats from a rapidly growing population, illegal user road and trail building, dumping, human-caused wildfires, uncontrolled dispersed camping, non-recreational residency, graffiti, and a lack of water downstream of the boundary,” according to Maret Pajutee, retired district ecologist for the Sisters Ranger District.
It is easy for the thousands of annual users to take for granted the special nature of the overlook and its trail, with the kiosk, interpretive signs, barrier-free trail, resting and meditation benches. It’s just as easy to overlook the Herculean effort of all those volunteer hours, which included youth participation and a textbook example of public-private partnership, in this case with the USFS.
Aside from the one-mile loop with the spectacular viewing platform midway, regulars know that there’s much more, such as the river trail and the connector trail. Users will tell you that the site offers more than a peaceful walk to a stunning viewpoint. It pays tribute to the river and is the capstone of STA’s many accomplishments.
Sara Baughman, recreation team lead for the Sisters Ranger District, sponsored the nomination.
“STA became, and remain, key partners in stewardship of the Whychus Wild and Scenic River in 2009 when the Whychus and Metolius rivers were selected for a ‘Treasured Landscapes’ Capitol Campaign by the National Forest Foundation (NFF),” she said. “While NFF could provide substantial funding, the funds could only go to nonprofit groups and private businesses. They were particularly interested in capacity building to help develop groups that would help take care of the creek for years to come.”
Presenting the award was a trio of Forest Service managers: Jewkes, Ian Reid, Sisters district ranger, and Baughman. Accepting the award on behalf of the Alliance was board chair Rick Retzman. Some 15 stakeholders were on hand to witness the achievement, gathering at the overlook platform as the sun receded over the Cascades, with the sound of the cascading Whychus Creek serenading from below, a fitting backdrop.
Reid noted, “There are 13,000 miles of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System established in the 1968 congressional act. That the 54 miles of the Whychus, and the work of such a dedicated corps of community volunteers was noticed among all the entries, made the recognition even more