Bringing Back History
Finding an old, unmaintained trail on the ground is tough. You think you’ve got it dialed in, then suddenly you have no clue where it went or how to find the next remnant. If you’ve stumbled across these phantom trails while hunting or hiking, then you know how frustrating this can be.
Such is the case of an old, mid-level trail in the Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area near Lewiston.
“I could see evidence of an old trail,” said Andrew Mackey, regional Idaho Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist out of Lewiston, “but there was no way to actually piece it together on the ground.”
So Makey did the next most logical thing. “I found evidence of the trail on Google Earth, and the more I drilled down, the better I was able to map it out.”
Makey speculates that the trail might have originally been used by members of the Nez Perce Tribe, although documentation is sketchy.
“Some surveys from the 1800s reference the trail on maps, but not all of them do.”
In the early part of the 1900s this part of Hells Canyon actually had several large ranches, and having a trail between them seems logical. Documents from the 1920s show that Civilian Conservation Corps crews were brought in to develop the user-made trail.
“It makes sense that ranchers and sheepherders used this trail,” said Makey. “If you look at the old ranch houses and the cabins IDFG now maintains for hunters and hikers to use, they are all on this disappearing mid-level trail.”
It’s possible that the original cabins were used as line-shacks, so ranch hands could stay out longer with the herds.
“In checking around the community, I did find some old timers who remembered the trail,” said Makey.
With IDFG’s emphasis on access for sportsmen and women, revitalizing this trail is a top priority.
“IDFG has a lot of great partners working on this project,” Makey explained. “We got a $25,000 grant from Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation that has allowed us to contract with a crew from Montana Conservation Corps, who will start working on the trail this year in a north-to-south direction.”
In addition to IFWF, Idaho Department of Lands has pledged support as well.
“IDL sees this trail as a way for them to better fight wildfires on the property,” says Makey.
The WMA encompasses over 100,000 acres of multi-agency management including IDFG, BLM, IDL, USFS, The Nature Conservancy, and the Nez Perce Tribe. The area, which ranges in elevation from 800 to 5,200 feet, is important habitat for mule deer, elk, whitetail deer, and bighorn sheep. Big game tags for Craig Mountain are highly coveted.
Over 133 bird species have been observed, including song birds, raptors and huntable waterfowl, grouse, chukar and turkey.
With the re-development of the historical 120-mile mid-level trail, hunters, hikers, and equestrians can take several days to explore the WMA.
“There are also some really cool loops people can do where the cabins are situated,” said Makey.
In total, the trail project will take three years, at the end of which will be a new map to guide visitors and with upgrades to the cabins, to make them as fire proof as possible.
“We also want to improve trailhead parking areas and include signage along the trail,” Makey added.
The trail will be open to hikers, hunters, bird watchers, and stock, but not to motorized vehicles.
“We’re of course going to monitor effects on wildlife as this trail gets used,” shared Makey. “But people should realize this isn’t going to be a manicured trail.”
Since the purpose of the WMA is habitat and security, it’s only right that the trail be a part of the landscape and not a boulevard that disrupts natural movement patterns of wildlife. While this historical trail will begin to be resurrected this summer, in three years area residents can have a long-distance adventure practically outside their front door. — ISI