It might be the least-glamorous job on the National Forest; making sure people have a safe, sanitary place to retreat to when… well, when nature calls.
That’s why Jeff Stein, a facilities engineer on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, is especially grateful to volunteers from the Hells Canyon Recreation Collaborative (HCRC), who have donated hundreds of hours their time to refurbish three “comfort stations,” or restrooms, at the forest’s Pittsburg Landing campground.
It’s not glamorous work – and some of it requires not just willing pair of hands, but skilled labor, Stein explained.
“We were fortunate, in this case, that we were able to get such a big volunteer effort put together,” he said.
Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and Eagle Cap Wilderness comprise one of 15 national priority areas for trail maintenance under the National Trails Stewardship Act.
HCRC represents several recreation groups comprised of members who enjoy the Snake River, which is federally designated as a Wild and Scenic River and managed as part of the country’s Wild and Scenic river system.
At Pittsburg Landing, the agency’s deferred maintenance backlog had been catching up with the campground’s infrastructure for years, Stein said.
“The siding was getting eaten up by woodpeckers chasing bugs, and then the roofing was original, mid-’80s cedar shingles… They were just wearing out,” he said.
Many of the volunteers traveled long distances to donate their time and labor to the effort.
“There were several people from the Treasure Valley, in the Boise area, and there were people from Washington (State). These people donate a lot just to get themselves there,” Stein said.
Since 2018, HCRC has organized three work parties at the campground, in Sept. 2018, May 2019, and Sept. 2019. Volunteers repaired or replaced the damaged siding, installed new metal roofs, and gave the buildings a few coats of paint. A fourth and final work party to complete the renovations is tentatively scheduled for spring, 2020.
“A lot of them have a somewhat generational history with Hells Canyon, they’ve been going there forever to enjoy hunting, or fishing, and it’s kind of a destination. I think that’s what helped them take as much ownership as they did.”
The collaborative group is organizing several other projects at the site, including vegetation management and a water system upgrade.
“I’m thankful there’s such willingness to help, and get things restored – get things back in order,” Stein said. “The personal sacrifices, that people give up their long weekends to come participate and offer their knowledge and skills. I’m very thankful for that.”
Since it was established in 2018, the group has focused its members’ efforts on a number of deferred maintenance needs in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, including both recreation and heritage facilities.
Stein said the collaborative has made a remarkable difference in the quality of campers’ and other recreational users’ experiences in a relatively short time.
“There’s a lot more to it than just replacing the roof on a toilet building,” he said. “There’s … vegetation management within the campground, getting things cleaned up and back to the way they were intended to be when the site was first constructed. And there’s a water system replacement-slash-upgrade project for the campground (that the collaborative is working on).”
“There’s also some noxious weed treatments that the collaborative group is wanting and willing to do within the Hells Canyon corridor,” he said.
Since the partnership began, volunteers from the collaborative have logged approximately 960 work hours on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
For more information about the Hells Canyon Recreation Collaborative, visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/HellsCanyonRecreationCollaborative.
Source information: Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region (staff reports)