Volunteers Toil to Complete Trail to Nowhere
Every Thursday morning, as commuters inch through rush-hour freeway traffic, Alice Krueper’s San Bernardino car pool heads to the middle of nowhere so the Pacific Crest Trail someday will go somewhere.
Krueper, 59, of the Sierra Club and as many as 26 volunteers weekly wield picks and shovels in the desert 110 miles east of Los Angeles in an effort to complete a missing link in the 2,560-mile trail from Mexico to Canada.
Such gaps are “the worst part of the trail,” Krueper says.
“We’ve got to get it done. People were getting lost. It’s so frustrating when you’re on a trail and lose it.”
Most of the volunteers are retired.
“I call it my 50s, 60s and 70s group,” Krueper said. “We get a few young people who have the day off. I’m amazed at the turnout.”
142 Miles to Complete
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management estimates the volunteers are saving the federal government $80,000. The U.S. Forest Service estimated in March that only 142 miles of trail need to be completed for the path to run uninterrupted through California, Oregon and Washington.
This spring, trail crews hired by the Forest Service finished five miles of a gap near Anza Borrego State Park and are scheduled to complete a remaining 19 miles next fall. Another incomplete stretch, near the Mexico border, is expected to be finished in the fall by contractors hired by the Forest Service.
That would leave only sections across the Mojave Desert near Bakersfield and the portion across the San Gorgonio Pass where Krueper’s group is working.
She hopes to have her stretch done by next spring.
The trail now ends near Snow Creek Village. Hikers detour via Highway 111, Tipton Road across Interstate 10 and Whitewater Canyon Road until the trail resumes.
Coordinated by BLM
The BLM is coordinating the construction of the 30-mile gap. Part of it was handled by the California Conservation Corps and part by volunteers.
Krueper, second-oldest woman to complete the grueling Ironman triathlon in Hawaii, last spring hiked 400 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, stopping when she hit the Mojave Desert. She plans to hike the entire trail in a span of four or five years, picking the best season for each stretch. She also is training for next fall’s Ironman competition.
In the fall, Sierra Club volunteers plan to set up a base camp in the hills west of Whitewater Canyon and attempt to build steep switchbacks over a four-day period. Next spring, they hope to complete the missing 30-mile Whitewater section with a trail between Interstate 10 and the Snow Creek area.
The BLM is unsure if the volunteers have the technical expertise to build steep switchbacks. But Krueper, a backpacker since 1948, is on her third trail-building campaign, and Bill Stahlberg, a 67-year-old Moreno Valley volunteer, is a retired state Parks and Recreation Department ranger who built and supervised the construction of trails during his 35 years with the agency.
Retired volunteer Sam Zusmer, 67, of Morongo Valley, says: “There comes a time when you have to give a little bit back. As long as I’m physically able, I am going to do this for the rest of my life.”
Krueper’s rationale: “It just makes you feel good.”