Community August 13, 2008

Dirt Bikes? Better Hikes?

All hail the chainsaw gang

Sometimes even Mother Nature needs help with spring cleaning, but when these merry maids of the wilderness set out to do a job, they aren’t in rubber gloves and overalls. These custodians wear helmets and leathers. Their accompanying roar is not from vacuums, but from dirt bikes and chain saws.

Though their vehicles of choice may seem discordant with the elements, the dirt bikers do an incredible service for those of us who enjoy a clear backcountry path.

“It is widely recognized by locals that our area trails would often be choked with downed wood were it not for the efforts of our friends, the chain saw-packing dirt bikers,” says Big Wood Backcountry Trails organizer, Chris Leman. “If they see a need, they are going to get after it.”

Dirt bike rider Peter Dembergh calls himself, “but one small cog in a large community wheel responsible for clearing trails from Bellevue to Stanley.”

Dembergh is part of a large group of volunteers who set out every spring to cut and clear the 100 or more trees that the snow will have toppled during the winter.

With the bikers’ speed of travel between sites, and the strength of their numbers, several teams can clear dozens of fallen trees in a day, opening up miles of trails for hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers for whom the trails would otherwise be impassable.

And because nature can be capricious, the teams will set out again later in the season to make another pass in the outback and clear away any additional trees that may have blown down.

Dembergh fell into the work innocently enough after taking up dirt biking with his son, Alex. Living at the trailhead of the Greenhorn and Deer Creek Trail Systems, Dembergh began to notice that the bulk of the spring clearing and subsequent summer windfall clearing was being done by motorized trail riders. He decided that since he, too, enjoyed the trails, and the sport, that he wanted to “do his share.”

Chris Klick, owner of Sheetmetal Fabrication and a local motorcycle rider, is also known for putting in his fair share of spring-cleaning each season.

Klick became so dedicated to the cleanup and maintenance effort that he and his good friend Ken Heuring started a volunteer group called “Tree Huggers.” Since its inception, the group has helped clean and maintain dozens of trails. In fact, the group members have been known to be out clearing trails even before the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management can reach them.

“Our motto is ‘ride to saw, saw to ride,’” says Klick. “We have no real rules . . . except the only way into the club is to clear trails.”

The Tree Huggers have linked their efforts with those of Big Wood Backcountry Trails, a group of motorcyclists, hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers who help organize and run the Ketchum Ranger District’s Adopt-A-Trail program.

“The work that dirt bikers do goes a long way in helping us get on the trails in the spring,” reflects Leman. “We have had springs when places such as Greenhorn are packed with a veritable ‘pick-up sticks’ of downed timber, and using motorized vehicles is one of the few ways to get it cleared.”

The benefits of this cooperative union are many, says Dembergh. “The individual (doing the clearing) receives the satisfaction of helping the ever-growing community of trail users.” Users of the trails benefit because the bikers’ work results in miles of spotless wilderness available for hiking, biking, and riding.

A third benefit, adds Leman, is in building a generational commitment to the job.

“The motorists don’t just go in and cut out the debris. They encourage new riders to come along and lend a hand,” Leman explains. “They set a good example for new riders on the trail, too. I’ve heard the dirt bikers remind the newcomers that all this play ‘ain’t free’— you have to give back. And they lead by example.”

“Those of us who have been here a long time understand the value of these efforts, and are obligated to educate the people who come here,” adds Klick. “We cooperate. We get along. That is the price you pay if you want to play here.”


This article appears in the Summer 2006 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.