Trails outfit expands mission


Last updated 7/11/2023 at 9:54am

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Sisters Trails Alliance is expanding its mission, while continuing its efforts to build and maintain trails in Sisters Country.

Sisters Trails Alliance (STA) has adopted a new mission statement: "To protect and preserve the outdoor experience through the stewardship of multi-user, non- motorized trails and their adjacent wild places." It is a subtle change in wording but its intent is marked. The previous version read: "To connect a community of trail users and their natural surroundings through the stewardship of our multi-user, non-motorized trails."

By the addition of "... adjacent wild places" the group is signaling its intention to take a, broader, more active role in preserving the outdoor experience, according to Executive Director Scott Penzarella.

STA operates under a Volunteer Service Agreement with the Forest Service and has a legion of volunteers who over many years and thousands of hours of toil have carved out the highly rated trail system around Sisters that has thousands of users.

Until recently the group's focus has been on building and maintaining the trail network for which it has received near universal praise. Now, in addition to that work, STA, with unanimous consent of its Board, will devote some energy toward environmental and ecological issues in proximity to the trails.

The first public evidence of the variation in purpose was Penzarella's letter to the editor of April 26, 2023, wherein he challenged the wisdom of the planned Green Ridge restoration project by the Forest Service. He called for among other things "...greater transparency from the Forest Service and for public understanding of all sides of this complex topic, especially because it impacts our wildlife, ecosystems, and recreational experiences in Sisters Country."

Given the group's long, historical relationship with the Forest Service, the public position opposing the project appeared to show a break with tradition. District Ranger Ian Reid admitted surprise at Penzarella's public letter especially after he had received a similarly worded private letter.

Penzarella has represented the Alliance in other public gatherings speaking forcefully beyond trail building and maintenance. A Rewilding Conference on May 13 in Camp Sherman brought together activists in response to topical issues in Sisters Country including alleged wolf sightings, logging by the Forest Service on Green Ridge, and proposed land-use changes to support mule deer winter grazing habitats.

At the conference, Penzarella said, "Any issue related to our public lands, from grazing, reintroduction of wolves, and preservation of animals affects us all. In order for recreation to thrive, especially being recognized as an important economic engine, our area where we recreate must survive and thrive, too. We can't be absent from that relationship."

He was also the only Sisters resident who spoke on behalf of himself and STA at the June 7-8 public input session of the Oregon Board of Forestry about its proposed Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) that the Board is expected to decide upon in November. The HCP, which covers some 640,000 acres of state lands west of the Cascades, has loomed large over Oregon Department of Forestry policy making for many months.

When asked if the Alliance's public stance with respect to Green Ridge strained its relationship with their partner, the Forest Service, Penzarella said: "In a good relationship such as this one sometimes you have to exert tough love."

Both Reid and Penzarella described their conversations as respectful and constructive.

"There are some growing pains in any relationship but we have a long, healthy partnership," Reid said.

Work planned for Green Ridge affects STA trails directly. Portions will be improved. Part of the trail will be re-routed to reduce user conflict among hikers and equestrians. Parking will be improved for stock users on Road 1120.

The Nugget asked Rick Retzman, STA Board Chair about the response to Penzarella's public letter.

"We got a number of 'what the hecks,' and an equal number of 'amen, bro' so we know we struck a chord," Retzman said.

Retzman does not see the change as mission creep as some had described.

"I see it as mission focus," he suggested, giving full support to Penzarella. "But, hey, we're here to listen. That's part of the Board's job. Users have spoken before and we have made adjustments."

STA will hold a public session Thursday, July 13 at 7 p.m. at Eurosports where interested persons can mingle with the Board and express any concerns or make suggestions about Sisters trails or the alliance.


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