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Surge In Long Distance Hiking Spurs Interest In Creating New Trails

A stretch of the Bigfoot Trail in the Red Buttes Wilderness near the Oregon-California border.
Michael Kauffmann
A stretch of the Bigfoot Trail in the Red Buttes Wilderness near the Oregon-California border.

Thousands of people are expected to start long distance treks on the Pacific Crest Trail this year.

That's inspired in part by the successful movie adaptation of Portland writer Cheryl Strayed's hiking memoir "Wild." Hollywood’s next hiking movie - “A Walk in the Woods” starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte - could spur even more backpacking interest when it is released later this year.

That has Western outdoors enthusiasts backing the build-out of additional long distance trails, which could offer greater solitude.

Hiker and educator Michael Kauffmann of Humboldt County has long envisioned a long distance trail to celebrate "the botanical uniqueness" of the Klamath-Siskiyou mountains in northern California and Southern Oregon. This year, he is spearheading the creation of a nonprofit to advocate for what he has dubbed the Bigfoot Trail.

New trails, less hustle and bustle

Kauffmann said a fundraising campaign on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter has achieved more than triple its goal with days still to go.

"People now understand what it means to hike a long trail, what it can mean both emotionally, physically - and spiritually as well - as you connect with the landscape,” he said.

Kauffmann initially sought to raise $2,500 on Kickstarter to cover legal and administrative costs to establish the official Bigfoot Trail Alliance. As of Thursday, there was more than $8,000 in the kitty, which could seed a first season of trail work as well.

He sees a desire to have additional long trails with less of the "hustle and bustle" expected on hiking's "Triple Crown" of famous distance trails: the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Appalachian Trail.

"The folks who have hiked the Bigfoot Trail discuss how they see more bears than people,” Kauffmann explained. “Then they overlap with the Pacific Crest Trail and they kind of get that flavor of the hiking community again. And then they disappear further into the wilderness."

‘The mythic quality of our ancient forests’

The proposed route of the Bigfoot Trail stretches 360 miles from Crescent City to a trailhead west of Red Bluff, California.

Proposed route of the Bigfoot Trail
Credit Michael Kauffmann
Proposed route of the Bigfoot Trail

Kauffmann described the thru-hike as not really ready for prime time yet. The route links existing trails, but there are gaps and some bushwhacking required at present.

The unsigned route needs "to be easier to walk," Kauffmann observed.

The Bigfoot Trail crosses six wilderness areas, one national park, one state park and four national forests. The terrain has been fertile ground for purported Sasquatch sightings, although the trail's chief promoter makes no promises about that.

"I don't believe in Bigfoot, but I do believe in the mythic quality of our ancient forests and the evolution that has occurred here and still occurs here," Kauffmann said. "I thought about naming it something different. I thought about the Ancient Forest Trail, the Biodiversity Trail. But I really think Bigfoot Trail is catchy... It generates interest."

The Northwest is home to several other long distance trails which have long been overshadowed by the better known Pacific Crest Trail. Backpackers may seek out the mostly complete, 108-mile Eugene to Crest Trail in Oregon. Another alternative is the 1,200-mile Pacific Northwest Trail. It stretches from the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park to the Pacific Ocean at Cape Alava, paralleling the Canadian border along much of the way.

Renewed interest in long-distance hiking

Pacific Northwest Trail Association director Jon Knechtel said he has heard from "a lot of hikers" who were planning to do the Crest Trail after seeing the movie "Wild," but decided to hold off for a year or two and hike the less busy east-west trail this year instead.

"We're anticipating more than double the number of thru-hikers [in 2015],” Knechtel said.

The surge in interest in long distance hiking has put his Sedro-Woolley, Washington-based nonprofit in expansion mode. This trail association is in the midst of hiring a marketing and PR manager. Thereafter, Knechtel hopes to hire a regional coordinator for Idaho and Montana.

Emerging long distance trails also include the proposed Mokelumne Coast to Crest Trail, which starts at San Francisco Bay and would finish at the Sierra Crest. Other backpacking enthusiasts have laid out a new 400-mile route through the Central California coastal mountains called the Condor Trail.

"Definitely in the last year, there is renewed energy behind these long distance trails," said Jack Haskel, trail information specialist for the granddaddy Pacific Crest Trail Association.

The U.S. Forest Service anticipates the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail to be so popular this year, it modified the permit system to spread long distance hikers out. Departures from the trail's southern terminus at the Mexican border will be capped at 50 people per day.

In 2014, the Pacific Crest Trail Association issued 2,655 Long-Distance Permits on behalf of the Forest Service to hikers wishing to travel more than 500 miles on the national scenic trail. That compares to 1,879 permits issued in 2013.

Haskel said “it's all speculation" at this point as to how many more will head out in the upcoming season.

Copyright 2015 Northwest News Network

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.