Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 4.22.2010


Earth Day 2010

Let it Flow Restoring Green Island

Prickly Project Wrestling thorn vines in the nude t’aint for sissies

Make Way for Turtles Can kids get the UO to help the Millrace?

Maintaining a Beautiful Butte The key is to stay on the trail

Maintaining a Beautiful Butte
The key is to stay on the trail
By Sachie Yorck

Hikers admire the view from the top of Spencer Butte. Photo by Naomi Levit /

We feel like Spencer Butte is getting loved to death, says Jesse Cary-Hobbs, the natural resource maintenance lead for the city of Eugene’s Parks and Open Spaces. Tourists and residential regulars have forged personal paths off the designated trails, paths that harm the butte’s native plants and soils.

The butte is home to more than 350 diverse species, such as wildflowers, lichen, migratory butterflies and rattlesnakes that cannot be found anywhere else in Lane County or the Willamette Valley.

“Places like Spencer Butte make Eugene special; it’s part of our heritage,” says Cary-Hobbs.

While some folk may be disillusioned at the thought of losing their freedom to roam around the butte in order to preserve something as seemingly insignificant as lichen, Cary-Hobbs insists that even the most obscure lichen play an important role in biodiversity. Lichen sequester carbon dioxide from the air and pollutants, soak up rainwater while reducing runoff and provide habitat for summit species.

South Eugene’s Ridgeline area also has distinctive soil — heavy clay that requires gravel on top so visitors don’t sink into mud. However, when the routes do become muddy, people tend to walk around the sludge, and they inadvertently widen the typically 30-inch trails up to 15 feet.

“Current lack of clarity has caused a spider web network of unofficial trails,” says Trevor Taylor, the city’s Natural Area Restoration Team supervisor.

Local groups like the Obsidians and the South Eugene Neighborhood Association helped implement new trail markers, fences and gravel about a year ago. Yet thanks to vandals, the projects already need major improvements.

In particular, the city plans to designate trails with more visible markers and close off unofficial paths by covering them with brush and deterring wanton hikers with signs. The two main Spencer Butte trails, coming from east and west, will remain. The rocky outcrop, known as the summit, just past the trees, might be slightly realigned according to safer routes. It will be a public process, with comments from interested citizens hopefully beginning this summer.

“We want to improve people’s experience up there while at the same time helping the habitat,” says Cary-Hobbs.