Trail Talk – October 2016

A recent fast-pack adventure through the Strawberry Mt. Wilderness made me appreciate the well-maintained trail system of Jacksonville’s parks all the more. Steeple-chasing through downed timber on overgrown trails that disappear into brush fields becomes a bit work-like. A follow-up trip into Sky Lakes saw more of the same. So here’s some good trail news:

Sofie’s Trail in Forest Park is ready for hikers and runners. But, until the rains come, the tread will be soft. Therefore, it would be prudent for users to travel as much to the inside of the trail as possible. We anticipate this will be the case well into fall because the soil types found on this north aspect of Jackson Ridge tend toward heavy clay. Even then, because of the steep slopes and some narrow areas between trees, the trail may not be recommended for biking.

The addition of Sofie’s Trail completes the planned trails in the Jackson Ridge area of the park. A wonderful mid-elevation loop is now available from P3 or P5 by traveling up Canyon Falls and Shade Creek Trail to Claimjumper Trail and across to Blazer Junction, then along Sofie’s Trail and down Jackson Creek to Canyon Vista Trail (to head back to P5), or on down Jackson Creek to P3. For folks wanting a bit more climbing in their hike, Legburner Trail can be used instead of Claimjumper.

As this piece is being written, the afternoons are still heating up into the low 90s. When it is published, one can hope that fall weather will be fully upon us. Will there be rain on the fallen big-leafed maple leaves along the canyon bottoms? Will the omnipresent yellow-jackets of a long, dry summer finally calm down? Maybe the park bears will have discovered all their nests by then, dug them up, and feasted on the little pests.

Park users have probably noticed more jackrabbits in the park this year. After a couple of years in the ebb of roller coaster population numbers, their abundance is noteworthy. And these long-eared hares attract predators of the howling type, our old friend, canis latrans, the dog that sings, i.e., Brother Coyote. The observant hiker will find coyote scat throughout the park, often marked with the unmistakable burgundy-red manzanita berries.

At the lower end of the park, in the reservoir area, you’ve probably noticed some changes to the older trails. Norling Trail is being re-routed through a future picnic area near P1, along the old unofficial “Waterfall Trail.” It will continue up the face of the old dam and across the top, staying on the SW side of Jackson Creek. A new alignment will move it out of the wetland area near the old reservoir, keeping hikers’ shoes dry in the wet season. A new bridge, built by Reed Hungerford as an Eagle Scout project, crosses Jackson Creek near the Norling/ Rail/ Ponderosa Snag Trail junction. Benches will be added for bird-watching and water music along the creek.

Things change daily in this season of flux. Please take advantage of these cooler fall days and enjoy nature in your backyard.