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Trail volunteers (copy)

Backcountry meals are part of the deal for volunteers helping maintain wilderness areas. The Idaho Trails Association is one of several groups putting together work parties to clear routes and maintain crossings in the wilderness this summer. 

Some wilderness restoration projects in Idaho need a little help from across the border.

The Idaho Trails Association shepherds volunteer work parties into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderess every summer to help the U.S. Forest Service maintain the 1,800 miles of backcountry trails and crossings. While most of the projects have filled up their participant lists, group executive director Jeff Halligan said a particularly isolated one still has openings.

“It’s actually a lot closer to reach from the Montana side than from Idaho,” Halligan said of the Cooper Flat projects in late July and early August. The 1.3 million-acre wilderness complex is the third-largest in the lower 48 states, and includes the crest of the Bitterroot Mountains west of Ravalli County in Montana. The best access to the Cooper Flat trailhead comes off Highway 93 west of Conner, where routes lead into the upper Selway River floating put-ins.

While a mule team carries up to 30 pounds of gear per participant, the volunteers will hike with daypacks about 9 miles to Cooper Flat Cabin. Campers will sleep in their own tents, but the cabin will be available for food preparation.

The first effort on July 22-28 expects to clear trail from Vance Point intersection No. 46 to Vance Point. It involves clearing downfall with crosscut saws, cleaning water bars, lopping brush and repairing the trail tread.

The second effort on July 29-Aug. 4 covers the areas from Cooper Point Trail to Cooper Flat and Cooper Point, with the same kinds of maintenance tasks. The trail gains about 3,000 vertical feet over three miles as it climbs to the Montana border.

Breakfast and dinner will be prepared by a camp cook at the base area, with lunch materials provided. Each work day lasts from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The organization provides all necessary tools. Participants are asked to pay $50 to hold a place on the work crew.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.