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Helping Hikers and Collecting Vital Information on the Mountain Loop Highway

Posted by Anna Roth at Aug 09, 2021 11:00 AM |

This summer, keep your eyes out for WTA volunteers on the Mountain Loop Highway. They won't be wearing hard hats — these folks will be in Gothic Basin and at Cutthroat Lakes several times this summer, sharing information about recreating responsibly and sustainably and doing visitor counts for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

This summer, keep your eyes out for WTA volunteers on the Mountain Loop Highway. They won't be wearing hard hats — these folks will be in Gothic Basin and at Cutthroat Lakes several times this summer, sharing information about recreating responsibly and doing visitor counts for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Hiker heading out of Gothic Basin. Photo by Chelsey Morar.

How it Started

As part of their 10-year management planning, DNR is currently seeking more data about how many people visit their Natural Areas in the summer, but they needed assistance getting that data.

Enter WTA ambassadors and trail maintenance volunteers, Richard and Brian. They had been wanting to do an outreach project in the Mountain Loop area to spread trail etiquette know-how to visitors in Gothic Basin, and they reached out to our Northwest Regional Manager Arlen Bogaards for guidance. When they learned about the needs of DNR, they raised their hands to help. Richard knew that "understanding the current use of this extraordinary area [would] be a valuable aid to its future protection and management." 

Richard and Brian agreed to 7 visits over the course of the summer to Gothic Basin and Cutthroat Lakes, DNR-managed destinations on the Mountain Loop Highway where they'll do visitor counts using a WTA-designed survey and inform visitors of basic Leave No Trace guidelines

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Brian Orlick takes a break on the way up to Gothic Basin. This summer he and Richard Mellon will be on the ground surveying hikers in the Morningstar Natural Area about their Leave no Trace knowledge. Photo by Richard Mellon.

Paul MacFarland, Natural Areas Manager for the Northwest Region of DNR, explained how this project will help the agency make management decisions.

"This kind of effort is very helpful. We had talked about installing trail counters but it will be great to have actual people who can make contacts and talk to the people who are out there ... That'll be the first real meaningful data we have for Gothic Basin, other than anecdotal data and what is in WTA trip reports."

This echoes Brian's motivation for wanting to be part of this project: "State resources are so thin and stretched, who else would do this work? We are a force-multiplier for DNR."

How it's going

On their first foray into Gothic Basin, Richard and Brian counted 89 cars at the trailhead when they set off and encountered 130 people. Plenty of people were backpacking but there were also some day hikers. The trailhead that serves Gothic Basin also serves Monte Cristo, Silver Lakes, and other backpacking destinations. 

In addition to surveying folks on the ground and reporting to DNR, they are posting trip reports about their outings, helping out even more hikers with the latest conditions. If you're planning on visiting Gothic Basin or Ashland Lakes this summer, keep an eye out and say hello to them!

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