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The Trust for Public Land and the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) announced the historic conservation of more than 10,300 acres along Northern California’s Trinity Divide in the Klamath and Shasta-Trinity national forests, protecting 17 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail and securing one of the largest privately-owned segments along the trail.
This major land protection effort is the result of an extraordinary partnership among the nonprofits, the Michigan-California Timber Company (MCTC), the U.S. Forest Service, private donors and the surrounding local communities. Many individuals and entities worked together for nearly five years to find common ground — with the ultimate goal of protecting this biologically rich area that is popular with recreationists for its 360-degree views and picturesque lakes, streams and rivers.
The acquisition will create new public access for hikers, horseback riders, campers, hunters and anglers. The public now has new legal access to ten lakes and many streams, and will be able to take hikes on new loops using the Pacific Crest and other area trails. Four vital rivers, including the Trinity and the Sacramento, flow near the property, enhancing local fisheries and providing clean drinking water for surrounding communities.
The project began with the Northern California-based Michigan-California Timber Company, which realized that the landscape and the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) were important ecological and recreational resources that should be in the public domain. The company, with a record of sustainable forestry practices and concern for the environment, initiated a discussion with the Pacific Crest Trail Association, The Trust For Public Land and the U.S. Forest Service about transferring ownership to the public.
“Michigan-California Timber Company has owned and managed the Trinity Divide lands for nearly 25 years, and we are proud of our stewardship,” said Chris Chase, timberland manager for MCTC. “Though these lands contain valuable timber resources, it is evident that the highest and best use of the property is recreation, aesthetics, water production and wildlife habitat.”
Outdoor recreation is also big business for Siskiyou and Trinity Counties and towns, with millions of visitors coming annually to the region because of the beautiful natural resources. This area is within a half-day drive of the San Francisco Bay area, and people come from all over the world to enjoy the splendor of this area.
“The Pacific Crest Trail is so important for the communities in Siskiyou County,” said County Supervisor Ed Valenzuela. “Not only is it a draw for tourists who help drive our small-town economies, it’s an asset for locals who escape to it for the health of their minds and their bodies.”
The Trust for Public Land and the Pacific Crest Trail Association have been working together for decades to protect the trail and its surroundings, more often than not, securing smaller parcels that contribute to the overall goal of closing trail gaps and in-holdings within national forests boundaries.
The Trust for Public Land has completed 35 projects along the trail, protecting 36,649 acres. The Pacific Crest Trail Association has advocated and helped secure federal funding for many of those properties in partnership with The Trust for Public Land and numerous other non-profit and agency partners. In 2015, the PCTA expanded its own Land Protection program to include property acquisition in response to the increasing number of willing sellers along the PCT and has since purchased four properties, protecting about 22 miles of the trail.
“As a National Scenic Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail is one of America’s greatest outdoor destinations, attracting visitors from around the world,” said Guillermo Rodriguez, California State director of The Trust for Public Land. ”We are grateful for the partnership of the Pacific Crest Trail Association, the U.S. Forest Service and the Michigan-California Timber Company in working toward this goal together. This newly conserved land is a big step forward in permanently protecting the entire trail corridor, but the work is not done, which is why The Trust for Public Land is continuing to work with communities all along the trail to ensure it is protected, so that generations to come can enjoy everything the Trail has to offer.””
While the purchase protects 17 miles of the trail, those miles are not contiguous. They are spread in separate parcels along a winding 30-mile stretch of trail. These properties are like much of the public land throughout the West and, particularly, California — in a “checkerboard” ownership pattern, alternating between private and public land. That’s the result of the 1800s-era railroad land grant program in which the federal government gave every other parcel to railroad companies to spur westward development and economic expansion.
Today, the ownership pattern presents significant conservation and land management challenges. As population pressures increase, private landowners big and small are selling their scattered parcels for residential development or resource extraction, drastically impacting the California landscape and its biological, recreational and public health resources. Roads cut to reach new homes destroy wildlife habitat, interrupt migration corridors, and degrade the quality of rivers and streams.
By permanently protecting this parcel, the partners are ensuring that hikers will continue to enjoy a scenic outdoor experience, uninterrupted by development. They also are helping to preserve watershed landscapes that provide sustainable drinking water to millions of Californians.
The 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail is one of only 11 National Scenic Trails in the National Trails System. It runs between the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico, through Washington, Oregon and California. The trail crosses mostly federal land, half through 48 federally designated wilderness, some of the most picturesque landscapes in the American West. Though designated as a National Scenic Trail in 1968, about ten percent of the trail still crosses private property and needs to be protected.
“This is the largest, single public land acquisition for the Pacific Crest Trail this generation will ever see,” said Megan Wargo, director of Land Protection for the Pacific Crest Trail Association. “While we pause to celebrate this incredible partnership and accomplishment, it’s important to note that our work to fully protect the Pacific Crest Trail is not finished.”
Beth Boyst, Pacific Crest Trail administrator for the U.S. Forest Service, hailed the land protection effort, saying the partnership represents the best of collaboration between private and public entities.
“When you travel through the Trinity Divide, the alpine lakes, flowers, ridgelines and scenic vistas have a sense of timelessness,” she said “It connects a fragmented land ownership pattern and ensures that these lands will provide outstanding opportunities for hunting and fishing, hiking and horseback riding, and important habitat protection for wildlife and fisheries.
“Many thanks to Michigan-California Timber Company, the Pacific Crest Trail Association, The Trust for Public Land, and the U.S. Forest Service staffs for their outstanding leadership in providing access to and conserving over 10,000 acres for future generations.”
The project was completed using private donations and major funding from The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). In fact, this project was one of the top priorities nationally for funding from the LWCF. Created by Congress in 1964, the LWCF does not use taxpayer dollars. Each year, $900 million from offshore oil and gas drilling leases are set aside as mitigation, used by federal agencies, states, counties and cities to protect land and build parks.
The Act recently expired and Congress permanently renewed it earlier this year. Separate bills moving through the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate would go further, providing full and permanent annual funding for the program. Right now, Congress must appropriate spending annually, and has rarely allocated the entire $900 million. The Pacific Crest Trail Association and the Trust for Public Land support the proposed legislation.
“On the North Coast of California, outdoor recreation is a way of life, and we’re fortunate to have the Pacific Crest Trail weave right through our backyard,” said Representative Jared Huffman. “We must do everything we can to protect this idyllic hiking spot for future generations and for the wildlife and communities who rely on protected lands. I’m glad to see this important step taken today to forever protect a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail and I’ll keep working in Congress to support full funding of important projects like these.”
The Wyss foundation also contributed generously to make this project possible.
“The Pacific Crest Trail ties together some of America’s most celebrated and spectacular outdoor spaces and is an increasingly valuable economic engine for rural economies across California, Oregon, and Washington. We are proud to help protect the Trinity Divide in the public trust, so that everyone can continue experiencing and enjoying this vital stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail,” said Molly McUsic, president of the Wyss Foundation. “With the completion of this project, all Americans — day hikers, thru-hikers, horseback riders and anglers alike — are guaranteed permanent access.”