Protect Your Public Lands: A User’s Guide

We can’t hike trails without public lands, so I wrote this blog for Oboz about 5 things you can do!


by Renee Patrick

What Designations Does You Favorite Trail Have Photo By Renee Patrick

Image: Take some time to learn about public lands surrounding your favorite trails. Photo by Renee Patrick

After huffing up the 2,000-foot climb out of Big Indian Gorge, my sweat-dampened shirt quickly chilled in the sharp November wind. I was just days from finishing my Oregon Desert Trail section hike with the final 65 mile stretch up and over the monolithic Steens Mountain in eastern Oregon.

I surveyed the miles of alkaline playa 5,000 feet below Steens summit and the vast expanse of public land stretching far into the horizon. That early November morning was just days away from an election that would upset the nation, and jeopardize the future of the very land below my feet.

In the weeks that followed, one thing became clear: I need to act to protect what I love, and the question became: How can I advocate for public lands and have a real impact?

I am fortunate enough to work for a conservation organization, the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), which has been working for 30 years to protect, defend, and restore high desert landscapes in eastern Oregon. But after multiple conversations with friends who don’t directly work in the conservation field, I realized they too wanted guidance on how to be effective in advocating for the future of our public lands. So I surveyed a few of my colleagues and came up with these action points:

5 Tips on How YOU Can Advocate for Public Lands Protection

1. Focus on public lands close to home

One of the best ways to participate in the public lands debate is to become educated about some of your favorite places. Is your go-to hike on public land? If so, which agency manages it, and does it currently have any protections or designations? We often form personal connections with our favorite places, and those connections can be powerful when a place you love is at risk. Visit your Forest Service, BLM, or State Parks office. Learn more about how they steward your favorite places, ask how you can participate in trail maintenance, or in any upcoming planning processes.

Even the youngest volunteers can make a difference in a conservation organization. Photo by Allison Crotty

2. Join a local conservation organization

Most communities have a variety of nonprofit conservation organizations that work to protect important landscapes and watersheds. Each of these groups may have a specific focus, whether it is sustainability, climate change, river health, or supporting the stewardship of a specific wilderness area. These organizations give a powerful voice to important local and national public land issues, and rely on their members to help support advocacy for restoration activities in the places we all cherish. Consider becoming a member of one conservation organization in your area. Start volunteering, or join them on a hike or stewardship trip. Your donation, membership, volunteer time, or voice can make a difference.

3. Get to know your senators and representatives

Your senators and representatives represent you on the state and national level, so it’s important to let them know where you stand on public lands issues. There is a lot of debate these days about the most effective ways to reach out to your elected officials, but any action is better than no action. Call their offices, write postcards, attend town hall meetings…and make it personal. You don’t have to be an expert on public lands to have a powerful pull. It can be very meaningful for our officials to hear from everyday people who care about public lands, so share your stories, share your concerns, and if they have been supportive of keeping public lands public, thank them!

Get creative with your signs at the next town hall event in your area. Photo by Heidi Hagemeier

4. Hold small gatherings with friends/family

Since so many people take access to public lands for granted, we need as many folks as possible to simply be out talking with their friends/neighbors/family about why public lands are important. Invite some friends over, and over dinner or beers talk about a few of the current threats. One of the main issues you may want to discuss involves proposals to hand over American public lands to the states. Because most state governments can’t afford to manage millions of acres of land, a likely scenario would result in raising taxes or selling our land to the highest bidder in order to pay for costs like firefighting and management. Come up with a list of your legislators’ addresses, and then have everyone write a few postcards and make a night of it! (find more here: https://www.congress.gov/state…, https://www.congress.gov/ -search legislation).

5. Vote

Start local. City, county, state and even school boards have elections between the presidential election years, and we can build a strong voice from the bottom up. Do some research and find out where your local candidates stand on public lands issues. Then make your voice heard on Election Day.

Renee “She-ra” Patrick is the trail coordinator for the Oregon Desert Trail in Bend, OR, and a triple crown hiker, having completed the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail in addition to 6 other long distance trails. When not backpacking, she can be found packrafting, skiing or napping in the backcountry. You can read about her adventures on her blog,www.sherahikes.wordpress.com.

Skiing Steens Mountain

Steens Mountain is considered one 50 mile long mountain in Eastern Oregon.

One of the things I love about working on the Oregon Desert Trail is the opportunity to head out into the desert at different times of the year to explore what other seasons and methods of travel can happen along the route. In winter this year, one probably could have skied the entire route. January dumped 3-5 feet of snow many places in the high desert, an unusual event for the past 9 years I’ve lived in the area.

I knew the Steens Mountain would have some epic skiing, and last weekend Kirk and I headed out there with our touring set up and camping gear to see what we could get up to.

In the winter the Steens Loop Road, which takes folks to the 9,500 top of the mountain from the little town of Frenchglen, is closed, but the Burns BLM has a winter permit system whereby you can check out a key to the gate. I’ve been working with the BLM over the past year on issues relating to the ODT, and will in fact be leading 2 trail work trips on two different sections of trail there this summer. I also plan to head out there again in a month or so to packraft one of Oregon’s Wild and Scenic Rivers (and a water alternate to the ODT!) the Donner und Blitzen River. There are just countless things to do in the desert.

We took Friday off of work and drove to Burns to stop by the BLM office, then made a stop at Safeway to buy lots of goodies for the weekend. By 11am we were in Frenchglen, and I noticed that the Frenchglen Hotel had reopened for the season. I stopped in to say hi to the caretaker John (it’s a Oregon State Heritage Site) and decided if we made it out on Sunday in time that we would stop by the hotel for a Steens burger (yum).

We unlocked the gate and were able to drive in about 9 miles until we reached snow. It looked as if a few people had tried to drive into the snow patch, and as we could see dirt about 100 yards away, considered trying it ourselves, but the churned up snow also gave the impression that one or two of those cars had gotten suck, so we decided to play it safe and park.

It was quite blizzardly out, and we put on all our gear and goretex before leaving the car. We both brought shoes as we thought we might have to hike a bit before finding enough snow to ski. All in all it ended up being about 2 miles of walking before enough solid snow appeared. We may have regretted stopping the car so short, but on Sunday on our hike out, we saw fresh evidence of another car getting stuck. Oh, maybe we made the right choice.

Kind of a junk show

Come on snow!

The weather was nasty, and the stinging snow stuck to our packs and battered what little bits of our faces weren’t covered up. By the time we arrived at a big grove of aspen near Fish Lake we decided to set up camp even though it was early. Neither of us had been on the road this time of year, and it had been long enough since Kirk had been up here we weren’t sure there would be much tree cover further up. Fish Lake is about 7,500′, and the wind was howling. We found a spot that seemed a bit more protected and set up our Hyperlite Mid (a great snow shelter, and light as it’s cuben fiber).

Time to find shelter!

Saturday the morning was clear and sun streamed into our mid, warming us up pretty quick. After some coffee we packed up our packs for the day, and set off to ski the road up about 2,000′ to the Kiger Gorge lookout.

Oh that blissful sun!

Lunch is going to be awesome

It was fantastic! After a few miles we started traversing near the Blitzen Gorge, and it looked like it would be some epic backcountry skiing. We decided to stick to the road, and while sections were wind blown and some sagebrush and rocks would appear from time to time, the snow coverage was pretty even.

Kirk looking into Blitzen Gorge

The good stuff

Finally about 2pm we made it up to Kiger Gorge, a glaciated canyon that looks like it belongs in Glacier National Park. Epic.

The ski out was even better as we were able to coast for long periods just enjoying the view around us. In retrospect we could have taken a short cut that would have given us more elevation loss in a shorter distance, but it was still pretty fun.

By the time we made it back to camp we were both ready for food, and snacked our way through the next few hours.

Sunday morning was overcast again, and by the time we packed up the sky was threatening to start dumping on us. We made it back to the dirt, luckily the cold night had iced up the new snow from Friday, so we were able to ice-ski farther than we could have on Saturday. On the last few miles of dirt it started to snow hard and sideways, and we didn’t even pause to switch to our shoes, instead hiking back in our tele boots. We were both ready to be warm inside the car, and it was a relief to take off those boots and get out of the wind.

Time to ski out…but first, coffee.

That’s some dark sky

And as luck would have it, we made it to the Frenchglen Hotel for those burgers. Oh yeah.

Oboz Trail Tales / Now, More Than Ever, Public Land Matters

As part of my ambassador roll with Oboz Footwear, I’ve been writing a series of blog posts for them the past two years. While I sat down in the days after the election to write my final blog of the year about nutrition on the trail, I just couldn’t bring myself to start the post when my head was a swirling mess of surprise, anger, confusion, and disappointment at the results of the presidential election. A lot of what I hold dear is in jeopardy under this new “leadership,” so I wrote this essay instead:

Now, More Than Ever, Public Land Matters

Cover image: Wildhorse Lake embodies the incredible beauty of wild places in Eastern Oregon. All images by Renee Patrick

Since I began backpacking 14 years ago, I have hiked through more national forests, wilderness areas, national parks, and tracts of BLM than I can count…literally over 10,000 miles worth of public lands. But their worth has only recently been on my mind. I guess you could say I have taken for granted that the United States is incredibly rich in wild places.

Public Melting Pots

I’ve seen clues…the long distance trails are a melting pot of cultures from foreign countries. Many of those hikers come to the U.S. because of the lack of public lands in their home countries. Their wild lands are gone, developed, extracted, or patchworked so that one could not walk 2,000 continuous miles for months on end in a space that has been created for the trees, elk, butterflies, rivers and recreation.

Oregon Desert Trail

Since starting to work on establishing the Oregon Desert Trail with the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) last year, I’ve begun to pay closer attention to public lands. ONDA has been working for 30 years to protect, defend, and restore the land in Eastern Oregon, and the Oregon Desert Trail passes through some of the most spectacular areas east of the Cascade Mountains. Not all of these lands are equal; not all are managed for wildlife or river health, or recreation. I’ve learned there are many layers to the puzzle of public land throughout Oregon and the country.

Why does this matter?

No Guarantees

Because there’s no guarantee the land we currently love to explore will be open to us next year, or in perpetuity. Our modern culture of wants and desires do have an impact on the world around us; consumption on a global scale does impact where we get our lumber, minerals for technological devices, and oil to fuel the cars we love to road trip in.

And those resources come from the land. So the question becomes, where is it appropriate to extract versus protect? If we extract too much or cause environmental damages (intentional or not), we can destroy the very land that sustains us and our wildlife and way of living.

Economic Impacts

If we protect everything from development and extraction, the cost of those goods and services can go up; it impacts those who make a living from timber harvest, mining, or drilling. It’s not an easy answer; it’s not an easy question. But since working to build a 750-mile route through Eastern Oregon, I’m ready to tackle the hard questions.

Our land management agencies are trying to strike a balance between extractive practices and protective measures…that balance strives for sustainability, but is often difficult to manage for all purposes out there…even recreation.

After 5 sections and over 6 weeks, Renee finished the entire Oregon Desert Trail.

Multi-Purpose Management

Working to build this route provides an opportunity to learn about the different layers of public land management: what influences it, what threatens it, what happens if pieces don’t get protected… if they do…it’s given me the chance to know a place on a much deeper level than I ever considered before when my main concern was getting to Canada before the snow falls.

Public land is essential for outdoor recreation, and while my recreation has been a relatively personal experience in the past, now I have the opportunity to help facilitate recreation experiences for a much bigger audience: hikers, ultrarunners, boaters, bikers, horseback riders, snow shoers, skiers…the list goes on.

Be The Change You Wish To See

I love the saying “We must be the change we wish to see in the world,” and for my part I wish to better educate myself on public lands, and want to help others to do the same. Through understanding, I believe we can better care for and steward our special places.

The Steens Mountain Wilderness became the first cow-free wilderness in the United States in 2000

I plan to explore these layers of land management by using the Oregon Desert Trail as a guide. As one hikes, bikes or paddles across Eastern Oregon, the maps, guidebook, and companion materials can be a tool to understand the different landscapes, their importance in the ecological diversity of the area, and the ways in which they are managed.

Speak Up

We all have a say in the future of public land, I believe the first step is through exploration and adventure in these wonderful and wild places…the next is through education.

 

Photos from my Oregon Desert Trail trips so far – 425 miles of awesomeness

wp-image-1423864038jpg.jpg

I’m hiking the Oregon Desert Trail in sections this year, and will be uploading photos periodically to the Oregon Natural Desert Association Flickr page. You can see the slideshows here:

Section 25

Section 24

Section 23

Section 22

Section 21

Section 20

McDermitt Alternate

Section 18

Section 17

Section 16

Section 15

Section 12

Section 11

Section 10

Gear on the Oregon Desert Trail

I just updated my gear list for what I have been and will be using on the Oregon Desert Trail this year. I’ve copied it below for your convenience! My next section will include mostly packrafting, so I’ll be using specific boating gear. I’m still working out my system, but I’ll share that info soon. It will add quite a bit of weight: packraft, frame pack (Six Moon Designs Flex Pack), helmet, paddle, PFD, throw bag, dry bags, water shoes; but once I’m floating the weight won’t be on my back, unless portaging…or “packing” the packraft. I’ll also be hiking some side canyons and exploring more ways for hikers to hike from rim to river.

20160123_112642

Hike in, boat out!

Did you know I have a packrafting blog too? Kirk and I have loved being able to hike into places to boat, and I’m really excited that the Oregon Desert Trail has so much boating potential in the Owyhee Canyonlands.

I’ll get more photos up from my 250 mile section of the Oregon Desert Trail soon, but until then see them on Flickr.

2016 Oregon Desert Trail Gear

Item Specific Item Weight
Backpack Six Moon Designs Fusion 50 2015 49 oz
Six Moon Designs Flex Pack (for packrafting) 51 oz
Sleeping Pad Gossamer Gear Air Beam 3/4 Wide (Air Beam is not available anymore) 11.7 oz
Sleeping Bag Western Mountaineering Ultralight 29 oz
Ground Cloth Tyvek 5 oz
Shelter Six Moon Designs Deschutes Cuben Fiber 7 oz
Stakes TOAKS Titanium stakes x6 1.3 oz
Poles Black Diamond Z-Poles 17 oz
Cook Pot TOAKS Titanium 1100ml Pot 4 oz
Spoon Oboz plastic spoon/spork 1 oz
Stove TOAKS Titanium Backpacking Wood Burning Stove 7.9 oz
French Press I bought at REI 10 years ago, I use plastic inner cup
Water Containers Platypus Hoser 1.8 liter 3.4 oz
Vapur 1 Liter Bottle 1.4 oz
Water Filter Sawyer Mini 2 oz
Water treatment eye dropper of bleach
Camera/Phone Galaxy S5 5.1 oz
Lifeproof Case 1.6 oz
External Battery Anker 2nd Gen Astro E5 10.9 oz
Headphones Generic
USB charger & 2 charging cords Verizon 7 oz
GPS/Beacon DeLorum InReach 7 oz
Umbrella Six Moon Designs Silver Shadow 8 oz
Headlamp Petzel Tikka RZP Rechargable Headlamp 4 oz
Stuff Sacks OR UltraLight Dry Sack 1.6 oz
Six Moon Designs cuben stuff sack
Knife Gerber US1 1 oz
Bag Liner Trash compactor bag
Jacket Montbell Alpine Light Down Parka 11.8 oz
Patagonia Hoodini 4.3 oz
Outdoor Research Helium II 5.5 oz
hat Hikertrash trucker hat 2 oz
Outdoor Research Pinball Hat 2.7 oz
First Aid Misc
Long sleeve shirt REI polertec zip sunshirt (old!)
Tank top thrift shop tank
Skirt Purple Rain Skirt
Long johns Outdoor Research Essence Tights 5.2 oz
Socks X3 pairs Point6 merino socks
Shoes Oboz Luna 12.6 oz
Chaco Z2 Sandals
Gortex Socks Cabellas brand
Rain skirt trash compactor bag
Mittens Gordini Stash Lite Touch Mitt
shorts spandex shorts (chaffing protection!)
Gaiters OR Gortex Gaiters 10.2 oz

 

Oh, and I shared my thoughts on why hiking with chocolate is important. Salazon Chocolate was one of my sponsors last year and their organic dark chocolate with sea salt was delicious! AND they support the triple crown trails. AWESOME company.

wpid-img_20150617_184711.jpg

My parents and chocolate on the CDT last year. Great combo!

Oregon Desert Trail

Oregon Desert Trail

I have an exciting development to share with you all…I’ve accepted a position as the Oregon Desert Trail Coordinator here in Bend! The 800 mile Oregon Desert Trail is one of the newest long distance trails in the country, and begins right outside of Bend  and connects a series of remote mountain ranges in the high desert of south eastern Oregon.

This is an incredible opportunity to combine everything I love doing to help shape a long trail. Ever since my friend Sage Clegg was the first to hike the ODT in 2013, I have watched with envy as other friends and hikers jump on the trail. Before I even heard about the new position I wanted to hike the ODT next. It’s exciting to be on the other side of the trail community and really be able to dive into something I am passionate about.

It will be fun to keep this blog going and share my experiences on the other side of the hike, and yes, take you with me as I hike it as well.