17 Miles of the PCT Have Been Permanently Protected

Despite the beauty captured on Instagram of its seemingly endless vistas, the Pacific Crest Trail is far from a continuous wilderness venture. Human influence is evident not just in the carefully cut and maintained footpath and occasional road crossings, but also in the trail’s regular transitions from untouched forests into fenced and signed private properties and back again. Sometimes these transitions are quiet, other times they are marked by logging operations or wind turbines. 

On Friday, June 28, a five-year project, known as the Trinity Divide Project, was completed with a $15 million investment. 10,300 acres of private land in the Trinity Divide of Northern California, in both the Klamath and Shasta-Trinity National Forests, have become public lands. For long-distance hikers, this acquisition means 17 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail that were previously accessible only via easement are permanently protected, including their “viewshed,” a careful cultivation of the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) to ensure the views from the trail are as wild as possible. The acquisition of this property also provides protection to the other trails, forest, and vital watersheds in this area, including 36 rare, threatened, or endangered species that call the region home. For the surrounding communities in Siskiyou County, it protects a continuously growing tourism industry built around outdoor recreation.

(Greg Grossmeier, Wikimedia Commons)

The PCTA puts in many hours every year to protect and preserve a wilderness experience that feels evermore distant in our modern world. In partnership with the Michigan-California Timber Company, the Trust for Public Land, and the US Forest Service, plus funding from The Land and Water Conservation Fund and a donation from the Wyss Foundation, this mission has been extended yet again.

The previous owner of the land, the Michigan-California Timber Company, has a long history of practicing sustainable forestry and giving back to the forests they profit from, including a conservation easement of land in the Black Butte area earlier this year and a commitment to forest stewardship with the intention of reducing wildfires. The company approached the US Forest Service with the intent to sell the land into public hands, acknowledging its rich biodiversity and value to the public, and the groups behind the Trinity Divide Project came together over a shared desire to protect the lands in their natural state and provide access to them for generations to come. (A fun side note: the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provided $10 million to purchase the property, receives its funding for conservation not from taxes, but from the royalties gained from offshore oil and gas).

(Tom Hilton, Wikimedia Commons)

This was one of the largest land acquisitions in PCT history, but even this stretch of the PCT is still not completely protected. The acquired land creates a checkerboard pattern on a map, and the challenges that have faced the PCTA and other governing organizations in regard to land ownership and maintaining a continuous footpath still exist here and elsewhere along the trail. Easements given by private land owners to permit the PCT to pass though their lands are remarkable in the compromise they signify, and are a vital tool to connect this path from Mexico to Canada. Easements, however, can be tenuous and often protect only very narrow paths through the land. Public ownership is the only way to genuinely protect the PCT and its surrounding landscape for generations to come—a cause hikers who hope to someday travel this trail can back.

Featured image: Sawtooth Peak in the Trinity Alps. Steve Bratman, Wikimedia Commons

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