General Outdoors

**This is the first in an interview series we are doing this year with hiking trail organizations.**

I had a lively conversation this week with Michael Kauffmann, founder and head of the Bigfoot Trail Alliance. Michael is largely responsible for the creation of the Bigfoot Trail (so-called for its location in “Bigfoot Country”, home of the mythic Sasquatch), and passionate about educating the public about the rich biotic and cultural history throughout the Klamath Mountains.

About the Bigfoot Trail:

Big Foot Trail Poster

Location: Northern California’s Klamath Mountains, with a quick dip into Southern Oregon, through 6 Wilderness Areas:

  • Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness
  • Trinity Alps Wilderness
  • Russian Wilderness
  • Marble Mountain Wilderness
  • Red Buttes Wilderness
  • Siskiyou Wilderness

Length: 360 miles

High Point: about 7800’

Low Point: Sea level, Pacific Ocean, at Crescent City

Highlights: passes through one of the most biodiverse temperate forests on earth, with 32 conifer species, more than 2000 plant species, and spectacular geologic complexity.

Bigfoot Trail Alliance Founder, Michael Kauffmann:

Michael is an outdoorsman, author and educator. In 2002 he took a hiatus from teaching and hiked the Continental Divide Trail southbound. To his knowledge, he was one of only two people to do a SoBo CDT hike that year. After his hike he was totally hooked on long-distance hiking. Upon completion of the CDT, he moved to Humboldt County in Northern California, eventually getting his Master’s degree from Humboldt State. An educator and ecologist, he has expertise in the region’s conifers, having written two books on the subject. In 2007 while discussing a potential Pacific Crest Trail hike with his wife, Allison Poklemba, she suggested he further explore the Klamath Mountains and create a long-trail locally instead. He took her advice and the idea of the Bigfoot Trail was born.

Creation of the Bigfoot Trail

An educator at heart, Michael’s biggest hope is that the Bigfoot Trail will introduce more people to the Klamath Mountains’ exceptional biodiversity and complex natural and cultural history. In 2008 Michael worked with Humboldt State botany professor John Sawyer (who has since passed away), to map out a trail that would capture the rich biological and geological diversity of the region. Professor Sawyer was the perfect partner for Michael, as he spent his academic career cataloging the flora of the Klamath Mountains. They put together a potential route that winds through the region, passing 32 confier species, and ultimately reaching the Pacific Ocean at Crescent City. In 2009 Michael hiked the route, and that initial route is in place today, though there is still work to do.

Creation of the Bigfoot Trail Alliance

Many of the existing trails that compose the Bigfoot Trail today were built in the 1930s and 1940s, and others have been utilized by Native Americans for millennia. In other words, these are old trails, and they need work. Recently Michael created a Kickstarter campaign, which raised over $14,000. These funds created the Bigfoot Trail Alliance, now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. With national interest in this new organization, the Alliance held its first board meeting this month (January 2016).

The Alliance is now working with the California Wilderness Coalition on its Northwest California’s Mountains & Rivers program and is partnering with the Siskiyou Mountain Club and the Forest Service to rebuild eight miles of the trail. It hopes to achieve National Recreational Trail status soon.

One of the Alliance’s long term goals is to create a citizen science project to study the effects of climate change on the Klamath Mountains’ biota.

Hikers are taking notice of the Bigfoot Trail. There is now a trickle of Bigfoot Trail thru-hikers each year, and traffic on the trail is increasing. Locals are enthusiastic about the project, with one group already volunteering to adopt a portion of the trail.

Big things are happened on the Bigfoot Trail. Join the Facebook group, and consider becoming a member of the Bigfoot Trail Alliance. Better yet, get out on the Bigfoot Trail and see what the Klamath Mountains have to offer.

Summer 2015 Road Trip

I’m finally back in Maine after a long summer trip. The picture above shows driving mileage of 7300 miles, but the actual mileage was closer to 9000 once all was said and done. The overall reason for the trip was that I was working for NOLS in Idaho, but I added in some detours, like spending a week on the Colorado Trail, and another week on the Pacific Crest Trail. There were a few National Park visits, and lots of visits to old friends.

Now that I’m back home, I’m dealing with a backlog of things on my to-do list. There probably won’t be many blog posts in the next few months while I deal with updating Appalachian Trail data, work with partners to update other trail data, deal with iOS 9 when it comes out, and start working on new app features for next year. It’s been an eventful summer for the hiking community in general, though, so I’m sure there will be plenty to talk about when I get back to writing.

For now, I’ve had enough driving for a few years– next time I think I’ll fly. It’s good to be home.

Hi – this is Guthook’s colleague Alice here. Most of us feel helpless in the face of international tragedy. Typhoons, hurricanes, earthquakes, disease outbreaks… few of us are in a position to do anything other than send some money and our moral support to our fellow human beings. With a few hours of online training, however, you can assist disaster relief workers across the world from your own computer.

HotOSM — or Humanitarian Open Street Maps — is a project of the larger OpenStreetMap project. The HotOSM team identifies areas of the world where there is a current need for accurate maps, and where there are not currently accurate maps in place. An army of online volunteers (you!) then  maps these areas into a master database using high resolution satellite imagery donated by various organizations such as Microsoft (Bing maps) and Mapbox. The maps are used by disaster relief teams on the ground.

Screenshot of the HotOSM Tasking Manager webpage.

Screenshot of the HotOSM Tasking Manager webpage. Mapping tasks are broken into squares.

Right now there is an intense effort by HotOSM underway to map Nepal: you can see the list of projects at the OSM Tasking Manager. Volunteers’ mapping contributions for Nepal are being updated and made available as a FREE offline mapset every 30 minutes for use by anyone, e.g. disaster relief volunteers.

I went through this learning process within the past year, and it took about 5-10 hours of practice and setup via learnOSM before I felt comfortable contributing to a project. I happened to become interested in this project just as the Ebola outbreak occurred, so I spent a lot of time mapping roads and villages in West Africa. And now, thanks to the HotOSM volunteers, vast areas of West Africa are mapped for posterity. (And on a personal note, I can’t believe how much I learned about another part of the world just by looking at satellite maps for hours on end.)

You can do the same for Nepal. A word of caution: to do this right, you need to spend some time going through the learning process outlined at learnOSM or follow the tutorials and advice from the HotOSM team. It can be a little frustrating to learn how to use the mapping tools and how to add data to the master data set, but the payoff is well worth the effort.

As a backpacking instructor for NOLS, one of the lessons I try to impart on students is that we can’t take for granted the beautiful mountains and forests we play in. When I was first a student on a NOLS course, I spent three months in various wild areas, assuming that these remote mountains and canyons had forever been used only for hiking, paddling, backpacking, or other wilderness ventures. But with each area we entered, there were new cognitive dissonances. Paddling by oil derricks on the Green River, or hearing warnings of an angry, shotgun-toting neighbor next to a Forest Service trailhead in the Wind River Mountains. These things didn’t fit with the wilderness I thought I was in.

Since then, I’ve learned more about the trails that I hike on, and the land I recreate in. Most hikers still take for granted that the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail exist, meandering through scenic mountains for thousands of miles. They don’t give too much thought to who owns the land under them while they’re standing on a mountain or paddling a river. But who owns the land, and how it’s managed, and how it came to be like that, are issues that matter very much if we plan to continue visiting the mountains.

Maine's public lands managed by the Bureau of Parks and Lands. Click here for the original.

Maine’s public lands managed by the Bureau of Parks and Lands. Click here for the original.

These issues pop up mostly on the local level– they don’t get national attention when headlines are more concerned with high-profile political squabbling. I’ve been watching a few of these debates play out in Maine over the past year, mirroring debates from national lands in the west. You might not hear about these if you live outside the state, but I can almost guarantee something similar is going on near your home.

Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL) is a well-regarded agency that oversees Maine’s State Parks and Public Reserved Lands. The Public Reserved Lands are analogous to National Forests, with the land being managed for wildlife habitat, recreation, and sustainable timber harvesting. BPL uses income from the timber harvest to pay its overhead, and most everyone is happy with the arrangement. Locals and tourists get beautiful mountains and lakes to visit, and management costs come out of sustainable logging, which doesn’t significantly impact the recreation or wildlife habitat. It’s a harmonious balance between the three primary goals of the Bureau.

Heading up Parker Ridge, with a view of Tumbledown Pond and Mountain.

Tumbledown Pond and Mountain, one of the most loved Public Reserved Lands.

But as with all balances between recreation and resource extraction, politics rears its ugly head. In the past several years our governor has tried to tip the balance in public lands more toward logging, which has led to increased harvests despite sustainable logging limits set by BPL. A few weeks ago came his latest attempt (as reported in Bangor and Portland), which involves dissolving BPL, and moving management of the Public Reserved Lands to the Maine Forest Service– an agency that is primarily concerned with logging on private lands, not recreation on public lands. Practically everyone sees this as a veiled attempt to cut more trees for short-term economic gain.

Looking over Flagstaff Lake from the Bigelow Range (possibly my favorite Public Reserved Land)

Looking over Flagstaff Lake from the Bigelow Range (possibly my favorite Public Reserved Land)

The reaction to the governor’s plan hasn’t been particularly positive (editorials in the Bangor Daily and Free Press, testimony by Natural Resources Council of Maine, and some backlash in Augusta), but the fight continues. There’s a lot of quick money in resource extraction and real estate development, while the economic benefit of recreation on public land is a bit harder to measure, so short-sighted politicians often see public land as a pile of cash being squandered by whiny environmentalists.

The Appalachian Trail touches five Public Reserved Lands (Mahoosuc, Four Ponds, Bigelow, Abraham, and Nahmakanta), which means over a thousand through-hikers each year visit these lands, not to mention various section hikers. More importantly, there are millions of tourists who come to Maine each year, most of whom spend at least some of their time enjoying the great outdoors. Whenever I meet someone from away, I hope they come to love the land as much as I do, and even come back again and again because of it. It’s harder to imagine that person seeing Maine as such a special place if the balance between conservation and resource extraction tips too far away from conservation.

Edit: I’ll post some articles about how the issue progresses as they come in.
3/23/15: A well-balanced article from the Portland Press Herald that highlights the history of BPL, the varied opposition to the plan, the governor’s plan for where the increased revenue would go, and his strong-arming tactics for getting a widely unpopular plan into effect.
4/4/15: Maine Legislature’s Agriculture Committee almost unanimously rejected the proposal in a bipartisan vote (the full legislature still has to vote on the proposal, but this is a good indication of where the proposal belongs). According to the committee chair, “We didn’t get any emails, calls, letters from anyone in the state who supported it… Every correspondence we received was opposed to it.”
4/16/15: The legislative committee gave a resounding and nearly unanimous NO to LePage’s proposal, and even added some extra rules to make his plans less likely to succeed.

Hi there! This is Alice writing on Guthook’s blog. My husband, Paul, and I work closely with Guthook, and we will contribute some blog entries from time to time. We live in Idyllwild, California, and produce the Android side of Guthook’s Guides.

Looking back, Paul and I couldn’t be happier with how this year has turned out. 2014 is best summed up as a year of relationship-building that allowed us to expand our offerings all the way from England to the Rocky Mountains.

In February we started talking with Jerry Brown of Bear Creek Survey Service, who has surveyed the entire Continental Divide Trail and creates a set of guides to the CDT. We partnered with Jerry and after an intense two-month effort, released Guthook’s Guide to the CDT for iPhone and Android in time for the 2014 CDT thru-hikers. Hiker feedback on the app was very positive.

Jerry introduced us to The Colorado Trail Foundation, and we were able to work with Jerry to quickly create The Colorado Trail Hiker in time for the CT hiking season. We were not sure how we would manage the iPhone release, with Guthook being out of town with his Appalachian Trail update, but as always, he came through and cranked out the iPhone version concurrently with the Android release.

In March we became a sponsor of Warrior Hike, an organization that sponsors combat veterans to “Walk Off The War” by thru-hiking America’s long-distance trails. We donated our Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail and Continental Divide Trail apps to the Warrior Hikes hikers. We have enjoyed this relationship, and will continue sponsorship into 2015.

Paul released a completely updated version of his Pocket PCT data guide to the Pacific Crest Trail in April. We introduced it when we set up as vendors at the 2014 ADZPCTKO at Lake Morena in April. We have been to many Kick Off events as hikers, but it was a completely different experience being there as a vendor. Despite the epic wind and rain storm, it was an awesome experience. Hats off to the ADZPCTKO organizing committee.

We went international this year! Trailblazer Guides produces a set of British Walking Guides, and we have partnered with them to create apps to accompany their books. We released a South Downs Way app in April for iPhone and Android and will continue to add UK’s long trail apps with Trailblazer.

One of our most exciting developments this year is entering into a relationship with long-distance hiking pro Keith “Fozzie” Foskett, to hike the various Camino de Santiago routes. Fozzie hiked the Camino Frances (from Saint Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago, Spain) in August and September and handed his data over to us to create an app. It’s an interesting process to create an app without having hiked the trail in person. Paul and I both feel that we have virtually hiked the Camino Frances now that we have combed through the data time and time again as we build the app. Fozzie is fun to work with  — he is an Englishman whose use of the English language is delightful.

We tried something new this year: “Guthook’s Tour of the Pacific Crest Trail“. We released this app in December with two purposes in mind: to show you what the PCT looks like through the use of a PCT map and photos and to serve as a resupply planning guide. It is not our normal navigation-based app, but something that we enjoyed putting together as a way to share the PCT with a wider audience of people.

We have about half a dozen new projects in the works,  and can’t wait to see what 2015 brings. We feel so lucky that Paul and Guthook met on their 2010 PCT thru-hike. When we look at where we are now, it doesn’t seem possible. Guthook is a joy to work with. You don’t often meet a person like him who not only works his butt off, but is also very laid back and easy to get along with. Cheers to you, Guthook!

Last, but certainly not least, a huge THANK YOU to our customers and supporters. We couldn’t do it without you.

Happy New Year!