Posted by: columbiahighlands | June 3, 2011

Trail work honors region’s hardworking heritage

Holly Weiler holding a crosscut saw.

Spokane resident Holly Weiler comes from a long line of woodsmen and women. Weiler’s ancestors founded Squire City, which is now Springdale, in Stevens County. According to Weiler, her grandfather was a logger “back in the good old days when you were out on your own, chopping down trees with your bare hands.” Weiler’s great aunt used to fell trees with a crosscut saw for the Diamond Match Company.

Crosscut saw. Photo: Holly Weiler.

Today, Weiler carries on the family tradition as an active volunteer on trail maintenance projects in the Colville National Forest of northeast Washington.

In this age of diminishing funding for trail clearing projects, much of the work on National Forest trails is performed by volunteers. The largest volunteer trail maintenance organization in Washington is the Washington Trails Association (WTA). In 2009, over 2,000 WTA volunteers logged over ninety thousand hours of volunteer work on 130 Washington state trails—all performed using hand tools. Nationwide, Forest Service employees and volunteers maintain over 109 million acres in the 756 federally designated Wilderness areas using traditional hand tools.

Pulaski. Photo: Holly Weiler.

Says Weiler, “When chainsaws work, they work really fast, but there’s so much down time for repairs and refueling. Besides, the cut is such a small part of the overall time when you factor in things like hiking into the area and clearing brush that the shorter cut time with a chainsaw isn’t much of a timesaver.”

In fact, based on cost, safety, efficiency and their favorable impacts on visitors’ backcountry experience, crosscut saws are often the tool of choice for Forest Service trail managers and volunteer trail maintenance organizations for backcountry trail maintenance.

For Weiler, one of the biggest benefits of traditional tool use is connecting with a way of life practiced by her ancestors. “I enjoy understanding the heritage behind, and respecting the history of, using hand tools,” she says.

Weiler has amassed her own impressive collection of antique hand-powered logging tools, including pulaskis and one- and two-person crosscut saws. “It’s very satisfying to find a tool that’s over one hundred years old and make it work like new again.”

This summer, take the opportunity to explore our backcountry heritage on a trail work party in northeast Washington’s remote and beautiful wilderness. Build or fix up a trail, meet wonderful people, learn traditional woodcraft skills, and help fellow outdoor enthusiasts explore the Columbia Highlands.

WTA has several trail clearing or construction projects planned in northeast Washington this summer, including two week-long volunteer vacations: June 11-18, Gibraltar Trail; and July 9-16, in the Salmo Priest Wilderness. They also have several shorter trips scheduled: June 25-27, Bead Lake Trail; July 16-17, Salmo Priest Wilderness; July 23-25, Little Snowy Top, Salmo Priest Wilderness; August 4-7, Hall Mountain, Noisy Creek Trail; and September 9-10, Salmo Priest Wilderness. Visit their website for details and to sign up.

Conservation Northwest and other recreation groups are also organizing several trail construction projects to get a good section of the Gibraltar Trail built this summer. The first work party will be in conjunction with the Kettle Range Rendezvous July 8-10.  Additional work parties will be held July 21-23, August 11-12 and September 9-11. E-mail to sign up for these projects, and check Conservation Northwest’s events calendar for more projects throughout the summer.



  1. That looks like a great organization! We may have to do some of the same here in western Montana. Our local ranger station has no money budgeted this year for trail maintenance other than what can be done by the fire crews when they’re not on fires.

  2. We signed up for the cost-share program through the DNR in Colville. With the help and advice of my dad, my husband and I have thinned/chipped/opened up 9 acres and took our woods from post-logging blah (from the previous owner) to a piece of land with tons of potential.

    So fun to see others not only protecting but improving the timber land. Keep up the good work! 🙂

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