Blazing the Trail at Kelly Butte

It’s common to find All Stars volunteering their time at the local homeless shelter or food bank, but you can also find us out in the beautiful Pacific Northwest landscapes rebuilding trails for hikers to enjoy. On an early Friday morning, 5 All Stars headed to Kelly Butte, about 2 hours southeast of headquarters. Kelly Butte is known for its short and steep ascent among wildflowers, which leads to a restored lookout that still houses volunteers. Working with the Washington Trails Association (WTA), we broke up into 3 teams with folks at the base, some close to the top and others almost at the summit, which was shrouded in a thick mist dotted with deep red huckleberries. When we weren’t snacking on berries, we focused on the theme for the day—rock work—a challenging task even for the frequent gym-goer.
Doug Brown, Executive Chairman, and David Harding, SEM Specialist, did their fair share of heavy lifting at the base of the trail. “We used a rock net to carry boulders weighing at least 100 pounds to rebuild a switchback retaining wall. We could’ve used a mule. Wait a minute… were we the mules?  Apparently so.  It was very satisfying work that few hikers will adequately appreciate, but we’ll know,” Doug joked. The hard work does pay off, and it gave us a new perspective when we hike ourselves. “Learning how to build a rock wall and put together a trail that will safely stay in place for the next 20 -30 years has given me an entirely new appreciation for the work the WTA does. It was challenging work to chisel and stack rocks weighing 100+ pounds, but it is very rewarding to know there are safe trails for hikers that I was able to help put together,” explained David.
Building rock walls took a lot of careful planning and coordination. In order to prevent people from shortcutting the trail, the team built a wall that kept hikers on the main path for their safety. Danae Garcia, Account Representative, worked on this task, utilizing tools such as a rock net for easier lifting and transportation. “The most challenging thing about this trail was how narrow it was and that every loose item could potentially plummet down the side of the mountain onto someone hiking the trail,” she explained. “Trying to partner-carry rocks along these narrow trails proved to be difficult as well. Luckily, I worked with some awesome people that made this task a breeze.”
At the top, the team focused on re-grading the trail and digging out sumps for water overflow to drain into during heavy rain. Towards the summit, we repaired and added steps for easier footing, which was a very time-consuming task. Each step had to be dug out at a downward-facing angle that could fit a large rock which wouldn’t tip. To make sure the rock stays in place, volunteers had to stuff little rocks in any open gaps and fill them with dirt. Seeing hikers use the newly reinforced stairs was especially rewarding if the stairs didn’t wiggle and stayed put. Doug described the feeling well, “Volunteering for the WTA is a great way to contribute to our common goal of protecting the natural environment by enabling others to access and appreciate it.”
Even though the clouds were thick, we enjoyed visiting the lookout at the top and got a first-hand report of the activity during the day prior. A volunteer was just wrapping up her overnight shift staying in the lookout, and she was happy to have had a quiet stay. One of the WTA assistant crew leaders had even spent a few years working on repairing the lookout with other volunteers, and we All Stars appreciate his dedication. We hope that you’ll enjoy your hike up Kelly Butte if you choose to go. You may even spy a mountain goat or two, and you’ll want to make sure to bring plenty of containers to pick huckleberries or you might regret it!

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